EPA regional chief, responding to critics, says pollution prevention is good investment

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said Friday that investing in clean water is better than paying more to clean up dirty water and fight harmful algal blooms.

She held introductory meetings with state and local officials in Tallahassee amid concerns about new federal water quality standards. Those proposed federal limits on nitrogen and phosphorus face objections from agriculture and industry groups and wastewater and storm water utilities.

Opposition groups say the standards will cost the state billions of dollars when implementation begins in 2012. Asked by a reporter to respond to the critics, Fleming said the standards are needed to address decreasing property values from harmful algal blooms.

“What we proposed was a predictable way to set a minimum standard to address that problem — do it in a way that is cost effective,” Fleming said. “We think that certainly being able to make some investments on the front end as opposed to paying costly cleanup costs on the back end is certainly something we want (to do).”

She was in Tallahassee to sign agreements with Florida A&M; University on green initiatives. Under the agreements, EPA will commit to enhance the university’s environmental policy and science curricula and offer career opportunities to students. EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental protection also will designate FAMU as a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management, the first such center in Florida.

DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard told a Senate panel last week that he’d like to tout Florida’s existing pollution reduction program with the EPA.

Vinyard wasn’t available after his meeting on Friday with Fleming, administrator in EPA’s Atlanta regional office. Fleming said the numeric nutrient criteria was just one of several issues mentioned in her meeting with Vinyard.

She also met with Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who is past president of the Florida League of Cities. Marks declined to name the issues raised in his meeting with Fleming because he said they were not discussed in detail.

The Attorney Generals Office and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are suing the agency in federal court to block the implementation of the new federal water quality standards

Earlier this week, U. S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., proposed language to block federal funding from being used to administer the new EPA standards. That move earned criticism from Environment Florida and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“We are stunned that he would file legislation to prevent clean up of his own district’s rivers and streams,” said Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine “Fundamentally, his message to the waterways is ‘Drop Dead.'”

But a coalition of 55 trade groups, companies and associations, including the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties, sent a letter to Rooney on Thursday thanking him for filing the amendment.

“We all share a common goal of ensuring the availability of clean water and recognize the importance that it plays in Florida’s economy,” the letter said. “However, we remain strongly opposed to using unsound science to establish limits that fail to show appreciable and attainable environmental benefits and lack a true economic analysis.”

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

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