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

By: Jim Turner | Posted: September 12, 2012 3:55 AM
Gow Fields, Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming and Lisa Jackson

Mayor of Lakeland Gow Fields, EPA Region 4 Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson | Credit: Susan Montgomery

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 mayor’s 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 state’s request, the review isn’t following the 60-day and 90-day review timelines that would typically have been set after the state’s paperwork was received on June 13, an EPA spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The open-ended review isn’t a surprise to state leaders.

Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, the EPA’s 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 administration’s 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 EPA’s litigation-driven rule would impose on Florida’s 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 EPA’s 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 state’s 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 Legislature’s 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.

Comments (8)

8:00PM SEP 13TH 2012
we have had the fdep under attack by rick scott, his appointees and the legislature for two yrs, we always knew why. if you have no one left to oppose you then you get what you want by default. no secrets here.
Henry Rogers, ACL, CCIM
10:23PM SEP 12TH 2012
The last EPA investigator I encountered was a navy lieutenant in uniform with a card as a federal EPA inspector. It infuriates me that the military has been assigned civilian jobs that take tight funds from defending the country. Henry Rogers
6:05AM SEP 13TH 2012
Perhaps it was taking a civilian job or being discharged. In any case, the military working at the EPA IMO, is quite fitting. After all, the military is about protecting our life and liberty. And we could have several 9/11''s a year and the toll would still be less than the number of people killed prematurely from pollution.
5:20PM SEP 12TH 2012
The state's plan will not do the job. It allows waterways to become horribly polluted before enforcement action begins. By that time, it is usually too late to save a spring, creek, or river.

The EPA needs to step in with the federal plan and dismiss the weak state nutrients standards that were written by, and for, the polluters and their friends in Tallahassee.

The use of our waterways as private sewers by monied interests must end.

Get the latest on this issue at floridawatercoalition(dot)org
6:20AM SEP 12TH 2012
I'm glad the "Obama administration’s EPA" is taking their time approving our state's request to set their own standards. Just follow the news about water in Florida and you'd see what a poor job Florida has done all along.

And instead of looking a what it will cost us to have clean water, they should be looking at what pollutied water past the point of acceptable will cost us.

I guarantee it's a lot more- not to mention the high costs not quantified by a dollar amount.
9:14AM SEP 12TH 2012
Florida has a better record than EPA. FDEP is an excellent guardian of our water resources. In many cases our standards are more stringent than EPAs'.
11:52AM SEP 12TH 2012
If Florida had a better record then the EPA wouldn't even be involved. As I said, take a look at the water news around the state.
(Start by googling Indian River Lagoon + dying seagrass.)
3:03PM SEP 13TH 2012
I've dealt with both the EPA and FDEP for many years and more times than not EPA issues rules that are misguided and will never achieve their goals. I will go with state rule of federal rule anyday.

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