Bronson sides against EPA agreement on waterways

Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson says he is seeking to intervene against a proposed federal court settlement that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to set stricter limits on nutrients in state water bodies.

Environmental groups announced in August that they had reached a settlement that requires the EPA to set numeric limits on nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, replacing Florida’s narrative standard that limits nutrients to levels that do not affect the flora and fauna of a water body. Environmental groups said the lack of specific nutrient limits is causing algae blooms and threatening the health of streams, lakes and rivers.

Bronson said he is seeking to intervene in the case involved because of concerns that the EPA could set “arbitrary and unreasonable” numeric nutrient standards for water bodies. His news release said he also is asking the state’s water management districts to intervene.

“These new standards would impose regulations far in excess of anything being considered in any other state, drastically increasing costs for all consumers,” Bronson said in a statement. “It is important that the court understands the magnitude of this issue and the importance of careful scientifically based standards for controlling nutrients in our state.”

Organizations including the Florida Minerals and Chemical Council and the Florida Water Environment Utility Council have sent letters warning of possible legal action to block the settlement. Bronson said the South Florida Water Management District also is seeking to block it and he called on the other four water management districts in Florida to join him.

David Guest, who is in charge of the Florida office of the Earthjustice nonprofit environmental law firm, called Bronson’s action “shameful.” His firm represents groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

He said neither Bronson nor the industry groups know whether nutrient limits that eventually are proposed by the EPA will be too low or could harm industry. Nor do they know they will be adopted after they are reviewed by scientists or whether they could survive a legal challenge if they are too low.

“There is an unmistakable hysterical quality to what the polluters are doing in response to the consent decree,” Guest said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle will hear arguments in the case on Nov. 16 in Tallahassee, according to Earthjustice.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)