Friday, January 27, 2012

Florida Water Pollution Legislation by Bill Kaczo

Water pollution rules supported by business, agriculture and utility interests but opposed by environmentalists, who say they are too weak, appear headed for quick passage in the Florida Legislature.

A bill (HB 7051) approving the Department of Environmental Protection's rules is headed for a floor vote in the House after sailing through a final committee Thursday.

A similar Senate bill (SB 2060) is scheduled to get its first and only committee hearing in that chamber on Monday. The two rules also need approval from the Environmental Protection Agency and are being challenged in an administrative law case.

The state nutrient rules were drafted as a lower-cost alternative to more stringent regulations proposed by the federal agency.

Environmentalists favor the EPA version. They say the state's rules would do little or nothing to prevent or clean up algae blooms that are choking Florida waters. Both would replace existing rules that rely on imprecise verbal descriptions of what constitutes pollution with numeric standards for phosphate and nitrogen.

Sierra Club Florida lobbyist David Cullen told the House State Affairs Committee that under the state rules if numeric limits are exceeded, a river, lake or other water body would just be put a study list but there's no requirement for an examination to be done. Also, the object of the study would be to determine whether the water body is out of biological balance, he said.

If there is no biological harm, no action would be taken even though the nutrient levels exceed the state standards.

"In other words, it brings us right back to the current situation in Florida, which is the use of narrative criteria as opposed to numeric criteria, which are clear and obvious and enforceable," Cullen said.

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