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Murzin Wants Time Out in Water Fight With EPA

With federal officials holding another round of public hearings in Florida on proposed water quality regulations on Wednesday, a Panhandle Republican who is opposed to the plan is gearing up for a water fight.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted its latest hearing on a tour of the state, fielding comments from central Florida residents, Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, said he has about 30 of his colleagues in the House on board for asking the agency to delay imposing tougher standards for Florida water pollution. The proposed standards, while not complete, have angered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state's business community.

Meanwhile, the chairman of a new Senate committee that will work on springs protection said he hopes any legislation that his panel produces will prove Florida has a new outlook on water.

The EPA proposal, which would set limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water containing the chemicals phosphorous and nitrogen, known colloquially as nutrients, is the result of a lengthy legal fight between the state and Florida environmentalists.

But Murzin said that a flood of new regulations, which he called arbitrary, was not the answer.

“We’re drafting a letter (to the Florida Congressional Delegation) asking them to hold off for 60 days so we can pursue doing an actual study,” he said Wednesday in an interview. “If we can delay the game a bit, we can do a thoughtful review (of the best solution to water pollution).”

The EPA has telegraphed that tougher standards for how much pollution will be allowed in fresh water in Florida were in the pipeline, and the agency hosted a public hearing on the proposed changes Wednesday in Orlando.

The hearings follow a consent decree over numeric water quality standards for inland waters, which was reached after environmentalists sued state regulators for failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.

Under the EPA plan, Florida waters would be grouped with different nutrient allotments depending on the characteristic of the water.

Murzin said that although his letter has drawn support in the Legislature, lawmakers will likely not be able to pre-empt the regulations in the legislative session that is scheduled to begin next week.

“I’m not a constitutional scholar, but if some federal judge or federal agency decides on arbitrary standards for Florida, I don’t know that we can thumb our noses at it,” he said.

But Sen. Lee Constantine, R- Altamonte Springs, who chairs the newly created Select Committee on Inland Waters, told the News Service of Florida that he hoped his panel could counter the perception that lead to the EPA standards: that the state has dragged its feet on water issues . Constantine has held meetings of the Inland Waters Committee at springs around the state in anticipation of the 2010 session and pushed last year for a broad springs protection measure that ultimately didn't pass, partly because of concerns from builders over pollution requirements.

“Certainly we hope that anything we do in the water bill, if we’re so fortunate to actually pass it, will be taken into consideration and help EPA as they continue down their process,” Constantine said. “It’s clear that this could be a very difficult process to work through, if we don’t work together. We’re hoping that they’ll see that most states are solving their own problem. And obviously if we do something like I’m talking about, that would have to be taken into account.”

No measure has been filed yet for the 2010 session, but Constantine said he was not interested in passing a weak bill to overcome the opposition last session from builders, who argued that the spring requirements would have required expensive new septic systems. “I want groundbreaking legislation,” Constantine said. “This opportunity for us to protect and refill our water resources is long overdue.”

Environmentalists agree, which is why Florida Clean Water Network director Linda Young said the EPA standards are necessary for Florida. Young said the state has failed to adequately address water pollution, which she said could ultimately impact its biggest cash cow: tourism.

“We’ve never had a (nutrient) limit in Florida,” Young said. “It’s kind of like a diet. It’s always been sort of ‘well I don’t drink too much.’ It’s a loosey-goosey kind of thing, where - depending on your political clout - you could have more wiggle room.”

Young told EPA officials during a Tallahassee public hearing this month that opposition to the federal plan was “the result of many months of organizing that's been done by …our own state government.” She told the News Service before the meeting that claims the regulations would increase the cost of doing business near Florida waters were unfounded.

“It’s change. It’s the unknown,” Young said. “DEP has exaggerated the threat and there is a little bit of panic created by a state agency screaming fire.”

She added that although the proposed EPA standards were the result of a lawsuit by environmentalists, they are not everything the green lobby wanted.

There are “loopholes galore, which the state of Florida passes out like candy,” she said. “It’s a quarter glass full of what we need, but we’re so desperate we’re willing to go ‘OK, it’s a start. We’ll take it.’ It’s not like it’s the Cadillac of regulation. It’s more like a Volkswagen.”

2 Responses »

  1. Get ready, Floridians.

    When the new numeric nutrient limits take hold, sewer charges will skyrocket.

    It's not cheap to remove nitrogen and phosphorus, and any treatment plant discharging to a surface water (which is most of them) will have to comply. This means that treatment plants will have to install costly equipment and tankage, then hire more operators to run the plants, pay for the additional electricity required to run the expanded plants, and pay for more laboratory work to prove that they are meeting the standards.

    If you think your sewer bill is high now, just wait.

  2. When EPA implemented the Clean Water Act, it used an essential pollution test incorrectly and as consequence ignored all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste, while this waste, just like fecal waste, exerts an oxygen demand and is a fertilizer for algae growth, causing eutrophication and dead zones. Although EPA in 1984 acknowledged the problems (and there were many) this faulty test caused, it never corrected the test and still allows open water to be used as urinals. (www.petermaier.net)
    One of the problems is that nobody can evaluate the real performance of a sewage treatment plant and what its waste loading is of their effluent on receiving water body. However, if the test had been corrected, we also would have learned that not only much better sewage treatment (including the treatment of nitrogenous waste) is possible, but that such facilities are actually less expensive to built and operate. It is no wonder that EPA in 1987 told a water attorney of the record in a High Country News article, that indeed this test and regulations should be corrected, but that this was impossible as it would require a re-education and retooling of an entire industry. The real reason more likely is the fact that nobody likes to admit that this faulty test application screwed up the Clean Water Act, the second largest federally funded public works program.