BRADENTON -- If the wars of the future are going to be fought over water, in Florida, the lines in the sand are being drawn now. The Florida Department Environmental Protection (FDEP) failed to respond to a request by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that the FDEP revise their fresh and marine water nutrient discharge limits. That request was over a decade ago. The FDEP has the responsibility to protect the quality of Florida's lakes, rivers, springs, wetlands and beaches, as well as our drinking water.
In January of 2009, the EPA declared that they would impose a stricter nutrient criteria on the state's waterways if the FDEP did not expedite rules to bring the nutrient pollution problems under control. Florida's Attorney General, Pam Bondi, along with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, filed a law suit asking the courts to block enforcement of the EPA's water quality standards.
Much of Florida's 11,000 miles of waterways and 7,700 lakes are in peril. Its rivers, marsh, swamp, wetlands and springs - all the way to its estuaries - have suffered from nutrient pollution (phosphorus and nitrogen), primarily from phosphate mining and agriculture. FDEP is looking to relax their current criteria, while the EPA is suggesting they tighten it up. Republicans, as well as some Democrats, have joined Bondi and Putnam's pursuit to reduce regulations so that businesses would find Florida more attractive. This has been Governor Rick Scott's mantra since he has taken office.
State Representative Cliff Stearns and David Richardson of Gainesville Regional Utilities have joined to support Scott's efforts to challenge EPA's will to bring Florida's waters into compliance with the Clean Water Act (CWA) standards. In an August speech, at the University of Central Florida, Stearns said, "Numerous studies in Florida have indicated that the Washington-imposed standards will have a devastating impact on Florida's job creation, economy and certain agencies." Many opponents argue that budget cuts of $700 million and the 4,500 jobs that went with them, is what is devastating to Florida's economy, considering the state already suffers from over 10.4 percent unemployment.
Former Florida Governor Bob Graham recently said, "We don't have a steel or auto industry in Florida. Our economy is so intertwined with our natural resources and our environment that if we allow that to be deteriorated, then we're really sacrificing our economic growth." Environmental groups throughout the state believe that under the current administration, Florida's waters will continue to fall below acceptable standards.
To counter the EPA's attempt to apply stricter rules FDEP has come up with their own draft of revisions. As expected, these rules have been embraced by industry and rejected by the EPA and environmental groups. The broad-based objections to the draft take that position for reasons of:
1- It would allow continued discharge of sewage, animal manure and fertilizer pollution into most of the states water resources.
2- It would keep the burden of prevention and clean-up cost on the tax payer and off industry polluters.
3 - It would give the state legislature control of the nutrient pollution issue.
FDEP officials have said that for any and all decisions to go forward in terms of setting the nutrient criteria, they will depend on the public's support and input. They have asked for submissions of public comment. The FDEP claims they want the public to state their expectations to just what is acceptable and what is not.
Environmental groups believe a large turnout will be essential to relating just how important our water sources are to the public. They have claimed phosphate companies and other polluters bus employees to these events to overwhelm opposition.
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