EPA Sets Clean Water Bar for Forida Too Low

For Immediate Release


Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA Sets Clean Water Bar for Forida Too Low

Proposed Federal Standards Ignore EPA Guidelines and Bypass Peer Review

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored its own scientists
and quality control procedures in formulating proposed numeric
standards to regulate nutrient levels in Florida waters, according to
testimony submitted today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). As a result, if adopted, the EPA standards will
classify waters that are impaired as healthy.

Forced by
successful environmental lawsuits citing its failure to enforce the
federal Clean Water Act in Florida, EPA announced in the waning days of
the Bush administration that it would act to set "numeric" pollution
standards for nutrients, such as phosphorus, to replace subjective
"narrative criteria" used by the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP). Even under the state's current lax methods, one-third
of all Florida lakes, one-quarter of its estuaries and one-sixth of its
rivers are officially classified as "impaired" by pollution -
proportions likely to go much higher under rigorous numeric standards.
An "impaired" designation triggers legal requirements for pollution
discharge reductions and other measures to bring the water-body back to
a healthy, functioning (swimmable and fishable) condition.

than set rigorous, science-based numeric criteria, PEER has charged EPA
officials in its Atlanta regional office with overriding the agency's
technical experts and proposing standards that are so weak they would,
in essence, legitimize unreasonably high pollution levels as protective
of water quality. Among improprieties cited by PEER are that EPA -

  • Ignored its own guidelines for how to set such ecological standards;
  • Bypassed peer review of the proposed standards, instead developing standards in closed door meetings with state officials; and
  • Eschewed
    applying a safety factor that EPA normally uses to set water quality
    criteria so as to provide water-bodies with breathing room if they are
    absorbing pollution right up to the limits.

standards are like the phony exams given to basketball players with
questions like how much is a three-point basket worth," stated PEER
Florida Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP water enforcement
attorney, noting that the Obama administration has yet to select an EPA
Regional Administrator for the southeastern states, including Florida.
"Here we have the same holdover EPA managers who presided over
deteriorating Florida water quality committing professional malpractice
to cover their past failures."

Florida DEP, which put out a
joint press release with EPA in 2009 to herald this effort, has since
changed its public posture. It has joined industry groups and other
current and former state officials who have protested proposed EPA
standards as unnecessary and expensive.

"Opponents are shedding
crocodile tears, knowing that if they bawl loudly enough the politics
will water down any changes to the point where they are meaningless,"
Phillips added. "PEER supports numeric criteria provided that they are
strict enough to actually protect Florida's waters."


Read the PEER testimony

See the January 2009 joint Florida-EPA announcement of numeric standards

Look at worsening Florida water pollution

Visit EPA site on numeric standards for Florida


Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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