Study: EPA Lowballs Costs of Proposed Florida Water Nutrient Restrictions

Published April 3, 2012

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is underestimating the costs of numerical nutrient restrictions it is imposing on Florida waters, the National Research Council (NRC) reports. The NRC, which is an arm of the National Academies, concluded in a March 6 report EPA is relying on overly optimistic assumptions about compliance costs.

More than $206 Million Per Year

EPA claims its new restrictions will cost the Florida economy somewhere between $135.5 million and $206.1 million each year. That equates to approximately $20 to $30 per household every year in newly imposed compliance costs. State and municipal officials agree with business and consumer groups that the costs will be much higher than the EPA assertions. Some estimates put the annual compliance costs for the new restrictions at $12 billion, or nearly $2,000 per household every year.

EPA asked a National Research Council panel of scientists and economists to review its cost estimates and report on whether they were likely to be accurate. NRC’s March 6 report found EPA’s estimates are not likely to be accurate.

“[T]he total costs to meet Florida water quality goals will exceed the reported incremental costs of the EPA analysis,” the NRC report concluded. 

Staci Braswell, director of government and community affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, says the state is already spending an impressive amount of money on clean water programs. EPA’s proposed restrictions will severely raise these costs, Braswell says.

EPA Lowballed Treatment Areas

“The incremental land area needing treatment was likely underestimated, individual costs for the [Best Management Practices] assumed to be sufficient were underestimated, and the more effective and costly BMPs and regional treatment systems likely required to meet numeric nutrient criteria were not included in the analysis,” Braswell said.

Farmers in particular will be hit hard by the EPA’s proposed restrictions, Braswell warns.

High Costs for Little Benefit

“Numerical nutrient restrictions on water bodies are excessively more expensive than narrative restrictions because the precise knowledge of how various nutrients impact the health of a water body is a very inexact science,” said Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute and a leading authority on groundwater hydrology. 

Setting numerical restrictions amounts to imposing costly and unnecessary restrictions on many bodies of water, said Lehr, often for no environmental benefit.

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.