Lakeland Ledger – November 24, 2010
It is hard to fathom the hysteria with which Florida’s political and business leaders reacted to last week’s unveiling of new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution limits for the state’s rivers, lakes and springs. From Gov.-elect Rick Scott to House Speaker Dean Cannon to Associated Industries chief Barney Bishop, the shrill response to the negotiated limits on nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into our freshwater bodies was one that regional EPA Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming aptly described as “exaggerated doomsday claims.”
Which begs the question: Can a price be put on clean water — especially in a state that depends so heavily on clean water for the health of its tourism and real estate industries, not to mention its drinking water?
The EPA regulations were no surprise. The standards began in 1998, with a 2004 deadline for full implementation. Of course, 2004 came and went.
Four years would pass until the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a report showing that half the state’s lakes and half its waterways had poor water quality. It was at that point that a group of environmental organizations sued the state demanding standards finally be set.
A federal judge ruled for the environmental groups and the state and the EPA began working on meaningful standards. Ironically, the Feds used data and pollution measures outlined in DEP drafts of state regulations to establish its own new rules. The process was not only open — the EPA received 22,000 public comments — but DEP Secretary Mimi Drew described it as “intense and involved but, in the end, constructive” and that federal officials “responded to many DEP and stakeholder concerns.”
VARIANCES ARE ALLOWED
The new EPA rules set specific levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, but give local governments and industries the ability to seek variances if they can show they are not harming water quality in specific instances. Moreover, the industries impacted are only those that pump their pollution into a waterway.
Opponents of the EPA rules have worked doggedly to portray the new EPA regulations as government overreach and overpriced, when in fact the new rules have tremendous flexibility, and the EPA has postponed their implementation 15 months at the request of Scott and Florida’s two U.S. senators.
The biggest rallying cry of opponents has been the projected cost, which some have set at an outrageous $21 billion. That, however, is far-fetched, said the EPA’s Keyes Fleming, who estimated the actual cost would be somewhere around $200 million — about $3 to $6 per month per household.
This effort by Floridians and the feds to clean up our precious lakes, rivers and springs obviously has been a long time coming. For communities like ours who can see the visible evidence of that pollution, these new regulations are overdue.
Those power brokers who have tried to derail this effort to save our water bodies need to quit fighting what is good for our state and its future.