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Nancy Smith

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

January 6, 2014 - 6:00pm

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 Agencys (EPA) motion to modify the consent decree regarding numeric nutrient criteria for Floridas 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 Hinkles order.

Said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Judge Hinkles ruling is a testament to Floridas 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 Hinkles 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 Floridas 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 departments 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 Floridas 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.

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