Should EPA Expand Review of Water Regulations?

TALLAHASSEE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should expand a review of proposed federal water pollution standards that have drawn the ire of Florida environmental officials, businesses and farming interests, a group of businesses leaders said Wednesday.

This spring, the EPA decided to delay until 2011 portions of the numeric limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water containing the chemicals phosphorous and nitrogen, related to streams. The agency also pledged to bring in a third party arbiter to navigate the differences between their scientific analysis and Florida's.

That notwithstanding, 36 CEOs of Florida businesses on Wednesday sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation calling for the review to be expanded to the entire water standard, which includes lakes and other water bodies.

“As leaders of several key sectors of Florida’s economy that will be negatively affected by this rule, we believe the EPA must subject its proposed criteria to third party scientific review and economic analysis prior to finalizing this rule,” the letter states. “As the deadline for the final rule nears, we are again asking for your assistance in requesting an independent scientific and economic review of EPA’s proposed criteria in its entirety.”

Despite the limited review, which the EPA said this spring would be conducted by its science advisory board, other parts of the water regulations are scheduled to be phased in Oct. 15. Before that happens, however, the business leaders said the entire plan should be wrung out further.

“This Florida-only rule would impose substantial new costs on Florida’s citizens, local governments, and the business community,’ the letter said. “Experts in Florida continue to question the scientific basis for these standards and whether they are even attainable with existing technologies.”

Under the EPA plan, which is the result of a lengthy legal fight between the state and environmentalists, Florida waters would be allowed different nutrient levels depending on the characteristic of the water. The state has argued that the standards would be unfair because they would only be applied to Florida, but environmentalists sued state regulators for failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act. DEP has argued that in some cases, particularly those involving streams, "narrative" standards, which are enforced on a case-by-case basis, would be more appropriate.

Wednesday, the environmental department agreed with the business leaders that the EPA standards should be reviewed.

“It is critically important that the numeric nutrient criteria are correct and based on sound science,” DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said in an E-mail to the News Service of Florida. “Criteria values that are more stringent than necessary result in forced investment of limited public (and private) dollars with no associated environmental benefit. Criteria less stringent than necessary can result in failure to prevent environmental harm. “

Linda Young of the Clean Water Network, who has argued that threats about increased costs associated with the EPA proposal have been exaggerated, said the request for a wider review was an effort by “polluters” to throw cold water on the regulations, the enactment of which have already been slowed down.

“A lot of concessions have been made as a result of all this whining and crying going on by polluters and their friends and the state,” Young told the News Service. “There’s a big push by point-source polluters – paper companies, chemical plants, phosphate, those guys…who will be the only ones affected by this to make it go away entirely. They have been able to do whatever they wanted to do for so long that the idea of having nutrient standards is offensive to them.”

Young said the business leaders who wrote to the congressional delegation Wednesday should wait for the EPA panel to weigh in on the standards.

“They may say the methodology was flawed or something else needs to be changed,” she said. “We just have to wait and see.”

A hearing on the standards is scheduled for later this month at the DEP’s Tallahassee headquarters.

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