Floridians Weigh in on Strict New EPA Water Standards

Published February 17, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which recently announced new, substantially more stringent water standards for Florida, heard both support and anger from Florida residents at public hearings in Tallahassee.

EPA is setting strict new limits on the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen allowed in Florida waters. Both nutrients are important for agricultural production, but EPA claims the restrictions are necessary to curtail algae blooms.

Defer to Locals, EPA Asked
Rep. Ralph Poppell (R-Vero Beach), chairman of the Florida House of Representatives Natural Resources Appropriations Committee, said national government agencies should defer Florida water quality decisions to Florida officials.

“In Florida, we understand water,” Poppell told a panel of EPA officials at the hearing. “We understand soils, and we understand our native plants better and certainly care more than anything else, and it’s because it is our present and it is our future.”

Concerned About Economy
“Right now is an absolutely bad time to be enforcing something that’s going to cost our state any more dollars than what we already have,” Poppell added. “We need to be working toward job creation in order to have a tax base to pay for not only clean water but our total environment picture.”

“We support responsible means to protect our environment, and our tax dollars going to build a brand new $60 million wastewater treatment center is tangible proof of our commitment to the environment,” agreed Fort Walton Beach Tea Party member Henry Kelley.

‘Not Far Enough’
While opponents of the new restrictions clearly outnumbered supporters, some eagerly voiced support of the EPA’s proposal.

“Florida had 12 years to address this significant problem,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Executive Director Jimmy Orth. “They have not gone far enough, they have not moved fast enough,”.

Florida Clean Water Network Director Linda Young chastised opponents of the new restrictions.
“This is one of the reasons people are angry, because they’ve been misinformed and they have been scared” by opponents of the restrictions, said Young.

“It’s unfortunate that our state government is working against the federal government for something that should be a lot more cooperative, but that’s what you’re seeing here,” Young added.

Farmers Worried
Gadsden County farmer Fountain May warned EPA’s new restrictions could drive Florida farmers out of business.

“It looks to me like if this goes through, my sons, who would be [the May family’s] sixth generation farmers, would be the last generation,” said May.

“We try to be good stewards of the land and the water, [but] we have to fertilize some. We can’t grow anything but kudzu in Florida if you don’t fertilize,” he said.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.