Bill Nelson, Democrats Support Florida, Oppose Obama's Water-Quality Mandate

By: Jim Turner and Nancy Smith | Posted: February 17, 2012 12:40 PM

Barack Obama, Bill Nelson and Rick Scott

President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott

Florida’s political leadership -- regardless of party -- this week demonstrated virtually unanimous support of Florida's proposed numeric nutrient water standards over standards promulgated for the Sunshine State by Obama's Environmental Protection Agency.

Even Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who had shown little inclination to enter the fray until now, sent a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday, praising Florida's Department of Environmental Protection standards passed unanimously by the state Legislature earlier in the month and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.

He urged Jackson "to promptly review and approve the FDEP rule."

Nelson insisted, “I believe that ultimately this process will result in an outcome that provides clean water and a healthy environment without undue economic hardship for Floridians."

He said, “The FDEP has excellent water-quality data, and the state is uniquely positioned to develop a rule that is both practical to implement and based on substantial data. I support the FDEP’s efforts. This rule was the product of strong scientific inquiry and consideration of public comment, and you will find that many of the water-quality standards mirror those proposed in the EPA rule. I urge you to promptly review and approve the FDEP rule.”

(See the senator's letter in the attachment below.)

Nelson was not the only federal official from the Sunshine State who took aim at the proposed federal standards this week. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio announced Thursday that he was introducing a companion measure to Florida Republican Congressman Steve Southerland’s bill, forcing the EPA to adopt the state’s water standards.The bill, titled the State Waters Partnership Act, would ensure the EPA follows the standards that passed the state Legislature.

“Florida has one of the most aggressive water-quality protection programs in the nation implemented by the people who know our state best, and it’s time the EPA stop bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation," Rubio said in a statement.

“This legislation simply reaffirms that states and the federal government should be partners in making sure our water is clean, and prevents Washington overreaches from harming our economy. The EPA needs to step back and realize that Florida will not simply stand by as their policies negatively impact Florida’s consumers, agriculture producers, municipalities, small businesses and other job creators.”

State officials insisted Thursday that the proposals Scott signed into law would help protect Florida’s economy and environment.

Scott himself said, “Today, I signed legislation paving the way for Florida to present the state's rules for numeric nutrient standards in Florida's water bodies to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for final approval. ... Once approved by EPA, they will further enhance the state’s nationally recognized nutrient control programs.”

Other state officials also weighed in, cheering the governor for signing the bill and Florida’s congressional delegation for taking on the proposed standards.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, noting that her office has opposed the federal government imposing its regulations, stated plainly that “Florida has always had the best expertise and resources to determine how to protect our waters.”

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said, “I would like to thank the governor for his swift action to ensure the EPA’s costly rules were not implemented, as they could have been detrimental to our state’s agriculture industry and business community. I also support Senator Rubio’s efforts to block the overreaching arm of the EPA. Florida has already demonstrated a commitment to protecting its water supply by applying sound science and establishing attainable goals. I look forward to working with landowners and business owners to continue Florida’s already proven record in assessing the health and enhancing the quality of our state’s bodies of water.”

Every Democrat in the state House and Senate voted for the FDEP standands over Obama's EPA standards.

Mark Hollis, spokesman for the Democratic membership in the Florida House, said, "Though we didn't have an official caucus position on the bill, nearly all caucus members supported it.

"I recall hearing floor remarks by Miami Representative Luis Garcia saying he didn't support prior nutrient criteria legislation," Hollis said, "but he supports the bill the governor signed because it establishes rules that the state and federal governments agree will expedite necessary oversight."

State Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, who chairs the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, which pushed the law, insisted on Thursday that the new law would quickly allow the state to move on and not be forced to cope with the proposed federal standards, which critics insist will be expensive and very tough to implement.

“I’d like to thank Governor Scott for signing the Numeric Nutrient Standards Ratification bill today,” said Dean. “His quick action continues the momentum, so DEP can submit its rules to the EPA quickly for the review process. Florida is one step closer to replacing unreasonable federal standards with a unitary, state-run nutrient program designed to protect public health and preserve Florida ecosystems.”

The state’s business community also chimed in on the matter, praising elected officials from both parties for pushing back against the proposed federal standards.

“Florida is a leader in job creation and water standards, and the last thing Florida needs is yet another job-killing regulation from Washington,” Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, stated in a release.

“Free enterprise works best with clear rules and Senator Rubio’s legislation will make sure the rules set by Florida, for Florida, will be implemented in Florida.”

Tom Feeney, Associated Industries of Florida president, stated Thursday that Florida’s nutrient rules “offer the most achievable and cost-effective way to balance the need for clean water with the diversity of Florida’s water resources.

“We’ve done the research and we have the data we need to accomplish the correct numeric nutrient criteria for our state. ... Additionally, we recognize the efforts of Senator Bill Nelson, who yesterday called upon the EPA to consider the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s request to implement a practical, state-run nutrient control program.

“The DEP numeric nutrient rules, recently passed by the Florida Legislature and signed today by Gov. Rick Scott, offer the most achievable and cost-effective way to balance the need for clean water with the diversity of Florida’s water resources,” Feeney said in conclusion.

A state study has estimated that the state proposal would cost utility customers and impacted companies between $51 million and $150 million a year, while placing the federal impact between $298 million and $4.7 billion. While the EPA's own estimate for its costs is vastly lower than state projection, the numbers still significantly top the state's, with the federal agency putting its impacts between $135 million to $206 million a year.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice, representing groups such as the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club, has filed suit, contending the EPA has failed to force the state to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

An administrative hearing is set to begin Feb. 27 to review whether the federal or state government should set water-nutrient criteria.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com and Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com; or either at (850) 727-0859. Kevin Derby contributed to this story.


Comments (5)

10:23PM FEB 20TH 2012
For the record myself and everybody I know is AGAINST HB7051. As a taxpayer whose money pays these politicians, I will be doing everything I can to let them know how disappointed, and stunned I am at their avaricious and short sighted policy making- It is simply SHAMEFUL and they have all lost my vote.

FDE for sure is not a group I want in charge of my water. The guidelines set by the EPA were developed to improve our water quality which was some of the worst in the country. Between bad water and lack of public transportation, Florida is more and more like a third world country- good job.

By the way, this bill is to costly for whom? Greedy business people? Because the acceptable alternative comes at a very high price tag to the environment, and guess what, we need a healthy one to survive. Using the “economy” as a scapegoat to pass a bad bill is pretty low.
9:17AM FEB 18TH 2012
“Florida has one of the most aggressive water-quality protection programs in the nation implemented by the people who know our state best, and it’s time the EPA stop bullying us into accepting another Washington-contrived mandate that would devastate job creation," Rubio said in a statement.

For one, if that had been true previously, the EPA wouldn't have been forced to make us do better. But in any case, it seems to me if Mr. Rubio really believed that he wouldn't need to introduce a bill forcing the EPA to accept those standards. That raises a red flag to me...
FBOP Retired
12:20AM FEB 18TH 2012
What are the differences an the possible human effects of the differences. And one more thing. President Obama did not create the EPA. He does not run it, he has a director which is approved by the Senate.
Pat Galbraith
4:40PM FEB 17TH 2012
I don't know of any water flowing from Florida to any other State. Why is the Federal government involved at all? I's none of their business.
9:22AM FEB 18TH 2012
They're involved because of the Federal Clean Water Act and because a group of Floridians sued the EPA for not enforcing it in Florida.

The Clean Water Act is a piece of legislation designed to protect us from people who don't believe in the free market principles that the Tea Party espouses and think the government should subsidize their business even if it's at the expense of other businesses and people's health.

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