Feds Out: Florida 'Thrilled' Over Judge's Nutrient Criteria Order

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: January 8, 2014 3:55 AM
Florida Sues EPA 02

In a ruling that ends a long battle over who gets to keep Florida water clean, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled Tuesday in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) motion to modify the consent decree regarding numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s waters.

What it means is that federal rulemaking for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Florida's waterways is discontinued and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can now implement what the FDEP calls "the most comprehensive numeric nutrient criteria in the nation."

Here is Judge Hinkle’s order.

Said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, “Judge Hinkle’s ruling is a testament to Florida’s proven ability to manage its own water resource protection and restoration programs.

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection employed a science-based approach to develop nutrient criteria for Florida waters that have been fully approved by the U.S. EPA and will have a measurable positive impact on water bodies statewide."

Explained Putnam, “Judge Hinkle’s ruling opens the door for EPA to fulfill its commitment to the Legislature and withdraw all of its final and pending rules, paving the way for Florida to re-assume the lead role in managing this vital natural resource.”

A written statement from FDEP pronounced, "We're thrilled ..." then acknowledged its scientists, and thanked EPA "for working diligently to position Florida as the only state in the nation with comprehensive criteria set for all rivers, streams, lakes, springs, estuaries, and coastal waters."

Monday's ruling is the end to a long battle.

In 2010 the EPA imposed its own numeric nutrient criteria on Florida waters after a number of environmental groups sued the agency for not enforcing the Clean Water Act in Florida. Those groups included the Nature Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club.

Opponents of the EPA's oppressively costly, untested criteria for fixing the pollution of Florida waters included agriculture, employers, local government and utilities. All put a high priority on clean water but they believed Florida -- not the federal government -- knows what's best for Florida and how to accomplish it.

In response to the federal government's stringent nutrient criteria solution, Florida DEP came up with a proposal to set numerical limits on nutrients that come from pollutants such as fertilizer, animal waste, and sewage. Those are the things that proliferate toxic, slimy algae blooms, kill fish and make people sick. After more than a year, the EPA agreed in 2012 that the state proposal is sound and workable.

In March 2013, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached an agreement to continue to protect Florida’s waterways from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

In June 2013, numeric nutrient criteria were approved for the final 18 estuaries along the Springs Coast, along with 448 miles of open coastal waters. This capped a series on comprehensive rulemaking efforts that previously adopted numeric nutrient criteria for the state's lakes, rivers, streams and springs, and the estuaries from Clearwater Harbor to Biscayne Bay, including the Florida Keys. EPA approved all these numeric nutrient criteria, which was also supplemented by the department’s August 2013 report to the governor and Florida Legislature.

Florida taxpayers have invested millions of dollars to create the nation's most comprehensive rules controlling nutrients. These rules, say the FDEP, account for the diversity and complexity of Florida’s waters and afford local communities and private interests the tools essential to protecting rivers, lakes, estuaries, and springs for the future and restoring those water bodies that do not currently meet standards.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 


Comments (7)

Allen Stewart
2:24AM JAN 10TH 2014
The Symbiotic Oligarchy involving a complex and pernicious relationship between Florida's elected officials and those moneyed interests associated with a debilitating avarice can now be certain science and long term protection of water quality will not interfere with their activities.
12:31PM JAN 9TH 2014
So now, if the water quality stinks, it's totally the state that's at fault, correct . . . . . be careful of what you wish for, because now the focus is all on the state . . . . and trust me, in a decade, we'll still be complaining about the water quality throughout the state . . . . or do you really believe that rightwing Republicans will be willing to spend the money, deny the bad permits, and enforce existing laws to get our water quality problems resolved . . . . . . . yeah, right . . . . keep watching as we continue to lose our springs and our citizens get sick from fishing and swimming in our abundant water resources . . .

Pathetic . . . .
9:22AM JAN 8TH 2014
"Opponents of the EPA's oppressively costly, untested criteria for fixing the pollution of Florida waters.........but they believed Florida -- not the federal government -- knows what's best for Florida and how to accomplish it."

So what you're saying is Florida knew all along how to fix the pollution affordably? With criteria that's been tested? Hmmm. So maybe now we need to know why we didn't. Why did we wait until the condition of our waters got so bad the EPA was forced by law to step in?
Now there's a story. Not as easy to tell as Florida prevailed over the big bad EPA but much more important for the future of Floridians who live on, drink, recreate on, or make their living on our waters.
Rick Caird
6:12PM JAN 8TH 2014
No, the story here is the EPA will try to regulate everything and anything. Their whole purpose in life is to regulate whether is makes sense or not. So, the story is "EPA told to go regulate somewhere else". Maybe they can fire about 100 employees who are no longer needed.
7:57AM JAN 9TH 2014
Not IMO. The EPA didn't come here looking to make regulations for no reason. They were forced to come here through a lawsuit because Florida was doing such a lousy job. Just read the water news across the state. (One in particular is the dire condition of the Indian River Lagoon. An economic engine worth about $3.7 billion a year.)

IMO, better for water pollution to be over regulated than under regulated. From a fiscal conservative standpoint it's past time to make polluters pay to prevent water pollution than to keep passing the astronomical costs to clean it up to taxpayers. Not to mention the collateral damage to businesses that are dependent on clean water and healthy fisheries and the families who enjoy it.
7:41PM JAN 9TH 2014
This isn't about being "over-regulated" or "under-regulated," it's about regulations that make sense. The very fact that EPA agreed with Florida's approach and sought to amend the Consent Decree is telling. I do take issue with the writer, however, with regard to the named plaintiffs. The Nature Conservancy was in no way, shape or form a party to this lawsuit. The plaintiffs are The Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida (no relation to the Nature Conservancy), and St. Johns Riverkeeper. They were represented by the environmental law firm EarthJustice.
8:09AM JAN 10TH 2014
"The very fact that EPA agreed with Florida's approach and sought to amend the Consent Decree is telling."

It isn't telling to me when they had to be forced by the lawsuit to step in with regulations. That tells me they wanted no part of it from the get go.

As far as regulations that make sense, we'll see. I have a front row seat to one of Florida's biggest failures (the Indian River Lagoon) to enact or enforce "regulations that make sense". After all, not only is the Lagoon in dire condition, it's costing us taxpayers multi millions of dollars just to try to stop the bleeding. We haven't even started on correcting the causes or figuring out what that will cost us. And that's just one body of water. There are many others.

Leave a Comment on This Story

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.