Industry groups call on Congress to defund EPA water rules

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 9:55 am | More from The Florida Independent

A number of industry groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Fertilizer Institute, are calling on Congress to include a provision that would defund a set of Florida-specific water quality standards in the 2012 appropriations bill.

In a Dec. 7 letter (PDF) to Congress, a group of 14 agricultural, mineral and pulp and paper industries write that they “wish to support the inclusion of certain important provisions aimed at encouraging economic growth and reining in excessive regulation.” Among those provisions: one that “would prohibit EPA from using funds to implement, administer or enforce” a set of federally required water quality standards, known as the “numeric nutrient criteria.”

Industry interests have long been critical of the EPA’s draft, arguing that their implementation could add as much to $700 to the average resident’s water bill.

Several studies “indicate the impact of the EPA’s mandates to Florida’s citizens, local governments and businesses will be in the billions,” reads the Dec. 7 letter.

Though the criteria were mandated by the EPA, the agency has agreed to allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to implement its own rules in their place. In an interview last week with The Florida Independent, the Department of Environmental Protection’s Drew Bartlett said that recent studies reveal the cost of the state’s version to be somewhere between $50 and $130 million per year. During a River Summit held in Jacksonville last year, one state representative said that the department estimated the federal version to cost somewhere between $5 and $8 billion.

“The cost figures for EPA’s rules were higher,” said Bartlett. “We include so many provisions, certainty and speed by which they get implemented, and we recognize that it won’t cost as much to implement them.”

A separate letter, signed by more agricultural and industry interests, also references cost estimates “in the billions.”

In that second letter, which was published on Dec. 18 in the Jackson County Floridian, the groups also request the inclusion of the Numeric Nutrient Criteria Amendment  — which is part of the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 2584)  — in the final version of the spending package.

That amendment, which is sponsored by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, would also block funding for implementation of the EPA numeric nutrient criteria. The bill also includes language that stops the attempted expanded regulation of waters under the Clean Water Act during fiscal year 2012.

“Florida’s existing nutrient water quality programs are more effective than the new EPA regulations because the current policies are based on scientific evaluations of the state’s vast, varied and unique ecosystems,” reads the letter. “We respectfully request that you stop EPA from implementing or enforcing its NNC rule for Florida, and allow the experts in Florida to take back control of its water quality programs.”

Florida’s current standard is ineffective, according to many state environmentalists, and hasn’t done enough to ward off harmful algal blooms and fish kills that negatively affect the bottom line in many communities across the state.

The rules will next require legislative ratification and then EPA approval before they can be implemented in the state.

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