Businesses oppose what they say will be costly EPA regulations for Florida waterways

01/18/13 Ella Wind
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s new numeric limits on nutrient levels in Florida waterways overrule the weaker, narrative-based limits used by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.The EPA says it will retract its rules if the Florida DEP creates its own standards. At a public information session in downtown Tampa Thursday, business owners want that to happen.

Some business people were unhappy with the EPA’s new role in regulating nutrient levels in Florida waterways. After years of battling, the new numeric standards cap nutrient levels in water to current levels. Tony Cunningham, a project manager for Gainesville Regional Utilities said that the new federal rules don’t recognize local conditions and are costly and ineffective.

“When you institute new rules, you don’t want rules that provide no additional benefit to the environment but have a large cost.”

But, Jim Giattina, director of the EPA’s water division said the EPA implemented the new standards because the original ones weren’t working.

“It’s basically a statement of the quality of water they want to have. We made a determination in 2009 that the narrative criteria didn’t appear to be working efficiently or effectively and that a numeric nutrient criteria needed to be put in place. Numeric criteria – actual numbers – needed to be established to protect the waters.”

Most of the people at the meeting were members of environmental groups. They called on the EPA to stand by their standards instead of yielding to the DEP. Jennifer Hecker is the director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“What the state proposed is not going to more effectively regulate nutrient pollution than our current ineffective standards and that’s unacceptable.”

However, the EPA is inclined to accept DEP rules for waterway nutrient levels, despite the objections of environmental groups. The EPA’s Giattina said state regulations should be used as long as they are adequate.

“The state has put forth numeric standards for their waters. We approved their standards again we took that action last November and the way the law is set up, the state always has prerogative of establishing its own standards, so going forward, if they come forward with additional standards for their waters, then we would not have to finalize our criteria, or if we did finalize it and they came forward with alternative criteria, we could withdraw our criteria so that the state could come forward to implement."

The EPA hosted a second public information session Friday. Three webinars are also available Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on the EPA website. The EPA doesn’t plan to make any decisions yet about whether or not to let the DEP take over state regulations. For now, the federal agency plans to review public input.

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