Tallahassee — Long-awaited federal standards to stop excess nutrients from fouling Florida’s coastal waters will not be ready this year, according to correspondence released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will proceed with standards for springs, lakes and streams this year but standards for estuaries and coastal waters will undergo a new “third party review of the scientific basis” – a process that will last until 2011.
This action means that relief for Florida’s most polluted waters will not be forthcoming anytime soon. EPA will only propose new standards for estuaries and coastal waters in 2011, beginning a long public comment and rulemaking process that will likely extend well into 2012, a presidential election year.
The March 17, 2010 letter from Peter Silva, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water programs, to Michael Sole, Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) states: .
“First, the Agency has decided to delay finalizing promulgation of the ‘downstream protection value,’ or DPVs with respect to downstream estuary protection and to address this issue in the 2011 estuary and coastal rulemaking….Second, EPA will seek additional third party review of the scientific basis for water quality standards to protect downstream estuarine and coastal waters. We commit to consult with FDEP on the scope of third party review and will announce in early April the specific plans for that review.”
EPA is proposing to create objective or numeric standards for Florida waters as a result of settling an environmental lawsuit charging the agency with failure to enforce the Clean Water Act. The EPA numeric standards would replace state narrative criteria, which have been widely criticized as ineffective.
“This appears to be more foot dragging by EPA, which has spent years avoiding doing its job for Florida’s waters,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former water enforcement attorney with FDEP. PEER has criticized EPA’s proposed standards as too weak as a result of political compromises. “If the estuarine standards need scientific peer review, why don’t the standards for springs and streams also need scientific review?”
Despite the current controversy, numeric water quality criteria are not new in Florida. A numeric phosphorus criterion for the Everglades was established more than a decade ago and yet the Everglades still receives an excess of 100 tons of phosphorus per year, based on EPA’s own studies. This month, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold is holding a hearing to consider holding EPA in contempt of court for failing to abide by his 2008 decision ordering enforcement of the Everglades’ standards.
“If EPA has not protected the Everglades, with its already established numeric phosphorus limits, why should we expect anything different even if EPA does establish numeric nutrient criteria for the other water bodies in the state?” asked Phillips, noting that EPA has yet to appoint a Regional Administrator for Florida and the other Southeastern states. “The Obama administration promised change but all we have seen so far is more of the same. Real change is needed and the EPA Southeastern Regional Office is as good a place as any to begin.”