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Riverkeeper says EPA pollution rules should be followed
By Pat Andrews
posted Feb 7, 2013 - 3:46:46pm
It’s no secret that Florida’s environmental community has no love for Gov. Rick Scott, who gutted the Department of Community Affairs and rearranged other agencies that are charged with protecting Florida’s lands, along with slashing the budgets of the state’s Water Management Districts.
The latest: Scott has eliminated 58 employees among the ranks of “longtime, experienced — and apolitical — employees” and replaced them with corporate insiders, a Dec. 31 Miami Herald editorial stated.
Now, the Sierra Club, The St. Johns Riverkeeper and others who watch Florida’s waterways are fighting Scott and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over who will protect Florida’s water resources.
The Florida agency wants to follow its own standards, while the environmentalists want the EPA’s standards to be the law for water protection in Florida.
Members of the Volusia-Flagler Sierra Club and Barbara Herrin of Edgewater Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development are asking for signatures on a petition in support of their position.
Floridians are invited to say “no” by completing a form message on the Sierra Club website at www.sierraclubfloridanews.org. The deadline for getting comments to the EPA is Tuesday, Feb. 19.
What the environmental groups want is for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to enforce its new water-quality requirements in Florida — not turn them over to Scott’s DEP.
However, DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the Florida DEP has the most comprehensive nutrient standards in the nation. Miller said every water-quality standard the DEP adopts must conform with the Clean Water Act, and must be approved by the EPA.
She also said the DEP puts more emphasis on restoration than the EPA.
“Florida has taken that aggressive step on its own,” she said, adding that the DEP’s restoration program covers 4.37 million watershed acres and 9,812 river miles.
“Our goal is to have the State’s criteria rules in place for all of Florida’s waterways in lieu of federal criteria,” Miller said.
Miller also said the DEP conducts comprehensive, ongoing assessments of Florida’s waterways to identify pollution problems, and adopts rigorous pollution-reduction targets to restore them.
But environmentalists disagree.
The Florida Sierra Club’s February newsletter notes, “Last November, the EPA adopted strong standards to combat sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution in Florida’s waterways. These rules will save our waters from the toxic slime that puts our drinking water, economy and precious ecosystems at risk.”
Scott “and his Big Polluter Pals” are mounting a campaign to turn control of the regulation to the “industry-controlled” DEP, the newsletter goes on to state.
St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said the Riverkeeper organization has been fighting for tougher standards on nutrient pollution since their river-protection group was formed a dozen years ago.
Toxic algal blooms — the result of pollution — have scarred the St. Johns River numerous times in recent years, killing aquatic life and damaging estuaries, according to the Riverkeeper.
Under the DEP’s plan, no action will take place until the damage has already been done and often too late to undo it, Rinaman said. “Poison pill” language in the state rule would not allow the EPA to make any changes to nutrient levels. If the EPA should change any of it, it all gets tossed, she said.
“With the continuing attempt to undermine the protections in place, we want to stand firm,” Rinaman said.
Not everyone agrees.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce lauded the EPA for plans to approve the state’s rules.
“The Florida Chamber commends the federal government for acknowledging Florida’s strong capabilities to manage water resources and water protection,” wrote Leticia Adams, director of Infrastructure and Governance Policy, in a Dec. 3 Florida Chamber of Commerce newsletter. “The EPA’s acceptance that Florida’s rules are accurate, scientifically sound and will continue to improve our state’s water quality, allows Florida to move forward and focus on putting the rule into action.”
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