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Florida's Water Standard Request Continues to Tread Water at EPA

September 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

Pointing to devastating costs, Florida mayors are backing state efforts to sway Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to replace federal freshwater quality standards with one overseen by the state.

While the mayors call came on what they expected to be the eve of a decision, federal officials have noted that a ruling is going to take longer than normal to decide.

Because of the complexities involved in the states request, the review isnt following the 60-day and 90-day review timelines that would typically have been set after the states paperwork was received on June 13, an EPA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The open-ended review isnt a surprise to state leaders.

Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, the EPAs Region 4 administrator informed Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard on Aug. 22 that because the decision could have national implications the review must be extremely careful and thorough.

That means no firm timeline for a decision has been set for the state Legislature bipartisan effort to replace the standards promulgated by the Obama administrations EPA.

The legislative bill was signed in the spring by Gov. Rick Scott and supported even by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando.

Nelson insisted, in a letter to Jackson in February, that 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."

The letter from the Florida League of Mayors asks for the EPA to drop the January 2009 determination that Florida needs federal numeric nutrient criteria and allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to run its own clean water program.

We all support clean water and know the great importance it has in enhancing the quality of life in our communities. But we have been deeply concerned about the potential devastating cost increases the EPAs litigation-driven rule would impose on Floridas municipalities, employers and residents, Florida League of Mayors President Gow Fields, mayor of Lakeland, stated in the letter.

This rule creates the most comprehensive water quality standard for excess nutrients in the nation and accomplishes the EPAs ultimate objective without misallocating resources and increasing costs. The Florida-driven solution up for your approval is strong and effective.

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

Groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida have backed the Legislatures request, claiming the change would remove regulatory barriers to job creation.

A state study has estimated that the legislative 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.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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