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Thirty-nine Florida groups seek to block federal water standards

Representatives of 39 utility, development and agricultural groups on Tuesday sent a letter to Florida’s senators and congressional representatives asking them to deny federal agency funding to implement new water quality standards.

The industry groups seem to be taking a harder line against the federal standards than some state agency officials. One state agriculture official told a House committee on Tuesday that the federal rule offered a “glimmer of hope” for some agricultural producers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in November adopted standards for phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida’s inland waterways. The agency says the specific numeric limits are needed to prevent toxic red tide at beaches and continued algal blooms in lakes and streams, costing the state tourism dollars.

But industry groups and wastewater utilities began fighting the standards more than a year ago — before they were formally proposed. And on Tuesday, they asked Florida’s senators and congressmen to deny funding for the EPA to enforce the standards, citing various studies suggesting that they will cost billions of dollars and will cause job losses.

“The rules will impact all of Florida’s citizens, local governments and vital sectors of our economy,” the letter said. It was signed by representatives of groups including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Forestry Association, the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

A Florida Department of Environmental Protection official in December told a House committee that the EPA had left enough flexibility in the rule to allow the state to decide whether to implement the standards. The EPA in November delayed implementation until early 2012, providing time for the state to work with industry and utility groups, said Jerry Brooks, director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration.

On Tuesday, Rich Budell, director of the Office of Water Policy at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee that the rule offers at least a “glimmer of hope” because it allows approval of alternative pollution limits for specific waterways.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)

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