Florida and U.S. environmental protection agencies argue over water-quality rule costs

Monday, April 04, 2011 at 2:50 pm | More from The Florida Independent

Though it it isn’t exactly news that the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are at odds over how much a set of numeric nutrient criteria to govern Florida water pollution could cost the state, internal emails reveal that the department has debated aggressively attacking the EPA’s cost assessment in the past. #

Last November, a review of internal Department of Environmental Protection emails showed that questions about overinflated cost estimates were rife within the department. A recent selection of the department’s emails shows that cost estimates still vary widely and that the two agencies in charge of implementing the criteria (the EPA and the department) still cite discordant estimates. #

The EPA is the federal agency proposing the criteria, following a January 2009 Clean Water Act determination and a consent decree from a 2008 lawsuit. The agency estimates that the costs of implementing the water quality rules could equal a billion dollars over time, but won’t be in the tens of billions, as industry groups and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have stated. #

Other documents indicate that, even with uncertain estimates, some Environmental Protections employees have wanted to aggressively challenge the EPA’s cost projections. From a Nov. 24, 2010 email, written by the department’s Jerry Brooks: #

I’m of the opinion that all of the suggested language options have the effect of suggesting deferment to the EPA estimate of costs as only they can know how they would implement the criteria. If EPA knows how they would implement the criteria then they should have articulated such in their promulgated rule. On many occasions we promoted the establishment of approved TMDLS [Total Maximum Daily Loads] as [Site Specific Alternative Criteria.] They rejected the idea consistently and chose to not include them in their promulgated rule. As such, I think it is inappropriate for them to suggest in their economic assessment that these TMDL will reduce the cost of implementation. In fact they assume no additional costs resulting from the promulgated rule where a TMDL has been adopted. How can you reject TMDLs (and they did reject) on one level and embrace them in another? … I am of the opinion we should be very direct in stating why the economic assessment put forward by EPA is flawed. [Emphasis added.] #

In a statement to The Florida Independent, Department of Environmental Protection Press Secretary Dee Ann Miller said that there are three main reasons the EPA’s cost estimates differ from her agency’s: #

In their cost estimates EPA assumed that only a certain level of treatment (e.g., Advanced Wastewater Treatment) for wastewater is necessary; DEP assumed implementation of a level of treatment necessary to achieve criteria concentrations in wastewater before discharge would be necessary. EPA’s cost estimates for each of the sectors (wastewater, stormwater, agriculture, etc.) did not address the full range of costs contained in DEP’s estimates. Thirdly, EPA’s cost estimate assumes there would be no cost for waters for which there is or eventually would be a TMDL, which assumes that future actions (not the current rule) would recognize the TMDL as the criterion for those waters. #

According to the EPA, costs associated with implementing the Total Maximum Daily Loads weren’t included in cost estimates, because those costs would be incurred regardless of whether or not nutrient criteria are implemented. #

“To determine the cost associated with EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s inland waters, EPA first assessed the condition of Florida’s waters and the nutrient control requirements that were already in effect before the rule was promulgated.” says Davina Marracini, EPA public affairs specialist. “Many water bodies were already expected to meet nutrient reduction targets established in existing or forthcoming Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), therefore, those costs would have been incurred even if the rule is not implemented and were not included in EPA’s estimate.” #

Though the state Department of Environmental Protection often cites and defends higher cost estimates than the EPA, reps have said on many occasions that estimates concerning numeric nutrient criteria “will always involve a wide range of uncertainty.” #

In another chain of emails, dated Jan. 13, 2011, Environmental Protection workers discussed reworking the department’s message on nutrient criteria. #

In one email, the department’s Drew Bartlett edited a draft of the message, including this: #

Based on even the lowest cost estimates, the numeric nutrient criteria for inland streams, rivers and lakes in the state of Florida promulgated by EPA on December 6, 2010 will result in additional costs to many Floridians. DEP is currently analyzing the remaining legal and scientific issues, as well as the policy considerations associated with nutrient criteria, to explore whether State rules could be developed in a practical way that provides protection to our water resources without causing unnecessary spending of public and private money. #

He ended his email with a suggestion to change one of the sentences: #

Final thought: You may want to change one phrase from “explore whether State rules could be developed” to “explore whether State action could be taken”. What we do may not be rulemaking and this leaves the door open. #

A recent Gallup poll reveals that clean water issues top the list of Americans’ environmental concerns. #

Seventy-nine percent of those polled said that they worried a “great deal” about the pollution of rivers, lake and reservoirs — the very waterways that would be protected by the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria. Yet those opposed to the criteria (mostly agricultural and industrial representatives) continue to cite (.pdf) overblown cost estimates to Floridians and politicians alike. According to their detractors, the nutrient criteria would lead to major hikes in water bills and are based on “bad science.” #


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