Florida politicians at the state and national level are trying to prohibit, defund or at least slow down implementation of a new water-quality standard for phosphorous and nitrogen.
The new rule, recently issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, addresses the problem of algae blooms and establishes numeric criteria for nutrient pollution, mostly related to nitrogen and phosphorous, in the state’s lakes and flowing waters.
Florida’s current standards are narrative-based, or verbal descriptions of clean- water conditions. EPA developed the rule as part of a 2008 lawsuit settlement with the Florida Wildlife Federation and finalized it in November 2010, according to the agency.
To meet the new standard, some wastewater dischargers likely would be required to upgrade existing treatment processes. Additional stormwater runoff controls probably would follow as well. An EPA study published in November 2010 estimated the new requirements would affect 85 of the state’s municipal wastewater facilities and 108 industrial dischargers because of their impact on freshwater lakes and streams.
At issue is the estimated cost to adhere to the new standards. EPA estimated the potential capital costs for wastewater treatment plants could range from $108 million to $219 million, with additional annual operation and maintenance costs of as much as $22 million per year to $38 million per year.
The Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection (FDEP) performed a number of broader cost estimates for implementing the proposed criteria—but not the final criteria—ranging between $5.7 billion and $8.4 billion, according to Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for FDEP.
In Tallahassee, a bill progressing in the House of Representatives would prohibit FDEP and other government entities from implementing the numeric nutrient criteria, which are scheduled to go into effect in March 2012.
The bill states the new regulations lack “adequate scientific support” and would have “severe economic consequences” on agricultural interests, local governments, wastewater utilities, industry and small businesses.
In Washington, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) both acted to halt or slow implementation. Rubio offered legislation that would defund EPA’s enforcement of the numeric nutrient standards for Florida.
In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Sen. Nelson asked the agency to “suspend application and enforcement of the rule, while providing for an independent analysis of the costs of compliance and continuing to help cities and counties prepare for its eventuality.”
Davina Marriccini, a spokeswoman in EPA’s Region 4 office, in Atlanta, responded by e-mail to questions, saying, “We are presently reviewing the letter from Sen. Nelson and his request.”