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Sparks Fly at Orlando Hearing on New EPA Guidelines for Florida

August 9, 2011 | WMFE - The University of Central Florida was the scene of the latest skirmish over new federal water pollution standards for Florida. On Tuesday, U.S. Republican Representative Cliff Stearns of Ocala held a congressional subcommittee hearing titled "EPA's Takeover of Florida's Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities and Job Creation."

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The EPA is set to impose new limits next year on nitrogen and phosphorus levels in Florida’s waterways. The agency says Florida passed its deadline for creating its own pollution rules, and toxic algae blooms are still choking lakes and rivers.

Many environmentalist groups are in favor of the EPA’s new, stricter limits. But the state, including Stearns, and several utility, agriculture and construction groups are fighting the new federal restrictions. Five panelists from those groups told Stearns’ subcommittee that the EPA’s rules won’t help enough to justify their cost.

That included Richard Budell, the Director of Agriculture and Consumer Services for Florida. “My department, working in cooperation with the University of Florida, estimates implementation costs for agriculture alone to be between $900 million and $1.6 billion annually, and could result in the loss of up to14,000 jobs,” he said.

The EPA disputes those numbers. Regional EPA administrator Gwendolyn Keyes-Fleming testified at Tuesday’s hearing that the costs will be more like $135 million to $200 million per year.

“That works out to be about 11 cents or so per household per day for clean water,” she said. “We look at this as an investment.”

She added it’s cheaper to prevent algae blooms and other environmental troubles than to clean up after the damage has been done.

David Guest of the environmental group Earth Justice also spoke in support of the new EPA guidelines. He began by reminding the subcommittee that he was only added to the panel late yesterday morning, after several environmental groups put out a joint press release blasting the hearing as “one-sided,” since all the invited speakers, apart from Keyes-Fleming of the EPA, opposed the new guidelines.

Guest said current state pollution rules are too lax, and they’re causing health problems, lowering property values, and dragging down the state’s tourist-driven economy. 

“They come here from all over the country. They come from all over the world,” Guest said of Florida’s tourists. “They come out there and they see a lake or a river that’s covered with stinking green slime with a sign that says it’s dangerous to get in it. Do you think they’re going to come back?”

A handful of demonstrators attended the hearing, which was open to the public but did not allow public comment. They handed out stickers that said “I Love the EPA” and “Slime Crime.”


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