St. Pete Times

December 9, 2010


Playing politics with Florida's dirty water

A Times Editorial


Florida's leaders continue to moonlight on behalf of the worst polluters fouling the water. Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson backed by Attorney General Bill McCollum, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from setting new clean-water standards for Florida's lakes and rivers. The move is bad for the environment and public health and a waste of taxpayers' money, particularly given that the EPA has delayed enforcement of the standards for 15 months.


Cabinet members seem to be making a sport of suing the Obama administration every time they see an opportunity to score political points. And just like with McCollum's lawsuit against the new federal health care reform, Bronson's comes down on the side of big business at the expense of public health.


Bronson's suit rehashes the same old yarn that the EPA jumped the gun in setting the new water rules. He alleges the standards are based on flawed science and that meeting them would cost water treatment plants, farmers and other industrial polluters billions of dollars.


A short history: EPA told the states in 1998 to limit nutrient pollution in surface waters by 2004 or it would do it for them. But 10 years passed before environmental groups sued the agency to intervene under the Clean Water Act. Last year, the agency settled the case under an arrangement where the EPA would roll out standards for lakes and streams this year and for saltwater bodies in 2011.


If the EPA deserves blame, it is for dragging its feet and giving some of Florida's worst polluters a pass. Runoff from leaky septic tanks, stormwater facilities and livestock operations pollutes the public's drinking water supply, sparks fish kills and respiratory diseases and hurts waterfront property values and tourism. The EPA has worked for years with the administrations of two Republican governors to craft the Florida rules, and it has agreed (to a fault) to a host of concessions in a good-faith effort to lower the compliance costs. Indeed, the EPA estimates that fewer than half of wastewater plants and only one-tenth of farming operations would fall under the plan.


Bronson's lawsuit broke no new ground. It looks aimed more at using the 15-month delay in enforcement as an opportunity for Republican officeholders and the industry to further misrepresent what the standards would and would not do. Business interests such as Associated Industries of Florida were complaining about the standards even before they were proposed, and Bronson's lawsuit echoes their baseless claims that the standards are arbitrary and not science-based. As the EPA points out, the standards are indeed grounded in law and strong science. In fact, the EPA used the state's own data in proposing the new pollution limits.


Rather than work with EPA during this transition period, Republican leaders have decided to blame clean water, President Barack Obama and their own inaction for allowing pollution to taint 375,000 acres of Florida's lakes and nearly 2,000 miles of rivers and streams. Florida has a responsibility to its residents and its economy. If Bronson and McCollum don't see that, their successors sure should.