Opponents tout survey opposition to federal water quality standards

Critics of proposed federal water quality standards in Florida on Wednesday pointed to new survey results suggesting that a majority of residents oppose them and would vote against candidates who support them. But the question is based on the presumption that the regulations will cost as much as the utilities who are opposing them say they will.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year proposed specific numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in Florida waterways. The EPA said Florida waterways have become choked with weeds and algae because the state’s narrative standard was too vague. But opponents, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, agriculture, utilities and industry groups, say the federal proposal will cost too much and may be impossible to meet.

In a 2009 report for the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, Carollo Engineers estimated the proposal could cost sewer utilities up to $50 billion in capital costs and that customers would pay between $673 and $726 more per year. EPA, however, estimated the cost at $130 million — far less than the utilities estimate.

Results from a Mason-Dixon poll released Wednesday showed that 61 percent of Florida residents were against the regulations if they cost more than $700 per year. “The poll shows supporting these regulations is a loser for anyone trying to get elected or reelected,” Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, said in a statement released by opponents.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Oakland Park, and Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, also were quoted as opposing the placing of additional regulatory costs on residents during these tough economic times.

David Guest, managing attorney in Florida for the nonprofit Earthjustice environmental law firm, responded that he is surprised that not more than 39 percent of those surveyed were either undecided or not opposed. He said households would pay $4 to $5 per month, according to the EPA estimates, for utilities to install the best available technology.

“I think the right poll question is, ‘Are you willing to pay $4 or $5 a month to prevent the rivers and lakes around you from turning into toxic, stinking slime with dead fish on top of it?’ ” he said. “I think you will get [support] better than the 61 percent opposed to it [in the Mason-Dixon survey].”

The EPA issued a statement saying that the state’s $57 billion annual tourism industry is at risk because of the environmental threat and that residents “want solutions, not more scare tactics from defenders of the status quo.”

(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.)