Friday, December 4, 2009

Fla. delegation weighs in on EPA water standards

Twenty-five members of Florida's congressional delegation have signed a letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work closely with state officials and industry in setting limits for nutrients in Florida waterways.

Scientists say nitrogen and phosphorus feed algae that have choked springs, rivers and lakes and have contributed to red tide in coastal waters. Sources of nitrogen and phosphorus can include industries, sewage treatment plants, farms and stormwater runoff from cities and suburban areas.

The EPA in August announced it will set more specific numeric limits for Florida waters, replacing the statewide narrative standard that prohibits discharges that create an imbalance of plants, fish and wildlife. Environmental groups sued the EPA to force the change and said the state standard failed to prevent waterways from becoming degraded.

Florida is the first state where EPA has moved to set statewide numeric standards. But the EPA move set off protests from business and industry groups along with Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson. They say the new standards will be costly to businesses, cities, utilities and consumers.

In their letter, the congressional representatives asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to have her agency work with DEP "in an open, collaborative manner and utilize its extensive resources of science and data on this issue." They stopped short of calling on EPA to let the state set numeric standards, as Bronson and industry opponents have requested.

The letter points to the Florida Nutrient Technical Advisory Committee having met 22 times to openly evaluate data with input from industry including manufacturing and agriculture. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was working to propose numeric criteria when the EPA agreed to set the criteria to settle the lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

"The proposed rule will have a widespread effect on Florida's industry and economy, and all concerned parties should be heard," the congressional representatives wrote.

Two Democratic representatives, Kathy Castor and Robert Wexler, did not sign the letter.

There was no immediate response today from EPA. Last month, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the federal agency is considering several options and approaches to setting numeric criteria for Florida and that much of the data it is using was provided by the Florida DEP.

Monica Reimer, an attorney for the nonprofit Earthjustice law firm that represents the environmental groups, called the letter "very reasonable."

"I was pleased that the delegation was taking a measured approach," she said. "It appears they understand that EPA understands this is a big task they have taken on."

To download a copy of the letter, go to :

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

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