Florida's Own Numeric Nutrient Standards Flow through House Committee
Around the State
Florida is on track to be the first state in the nation to implement statewide nutrient standards for its waterways, and the state is doing it its own way.
After locking horns with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its effort to dictate a one-size-fits-all approach to numeric nutrient standards (NNCs) for Florida, the state prevailed in setting its own scientific-based rules for its water bodies. The House State Affairs Committee Wednesday gave its stamp of approval to the plan developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as they voted in support of PCB SAC 13-02, which sets in Florida statutes protections for downstream waters.
The bill is the culmination of 10 years of work by DEP to develop NNCs for Florida. In 2003, the department set up a technical advisory committee to begin collecting data about biological conditions in Florida’s waters. The step was in answer to EPA’s 1998 suggestion that all states develop nutrient standards for their waterways.
As is a pattern in Florida, environmentalists sued in federal court and EPA stepped in to mandate what Florida’s leaders deemed to be job-killing and arbitrary statewide rules.
Rep. Jake Raburn, the bill’s sponsor, said every water body in Florida is different and EPA did not take that into account when mandating their limits. “DEP has done a fantastic job collecting real science and using real data to come up with standards that work for our state and that make sense for water quality in our state,” said the Lithia Republican.
The irony of being singled out by EPA as the first state to have statewide federal rules placed on its waterways was addressed by Drew Bartlett, director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, who said the state already leads the nation in nutrient limits for its waterways, and in fact, there are 22 states with no rules on any of its water bodies.
“With this bill we will have statewide criteria for rivers and streams, lakes, estuaries and coastal criteria,” he said. “We will be the most represented state in the nation. And, we will lead the nation in setting numeric nutrient criteria, easily. We already do, this will make it even more.”
Florida is also home to the largest environmental restoration effort in the country with the Everglades. An unrelated Everglades bill is moving concurrently through the Legislature. Some members displayed concern about whether the NNC bill would affect the Everglades. But, Bartlett assured that there is no overlap, since South Florida canals and waterways in the Everglades Protection Area are already covered under other regulations and are already required to meet water quality standards.
Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, congratulated DEP for fighting for state’s rights and finding a pathway for the state to have certainty, which will have a positive effect on the economy. Even though it’s an environmental bill, he said, it’s a regulation that will come with a cost.
EPA will now present a package in federal court in September as part of its motion for dismissal from the 2009 consent decree that required the federal agency to set additional criteria for Florida.
Anne Smith writes exclusively for Sunshine State News.