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New, stricter water pollution rules coming to Florida

6:41 PM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida -- Florida is getting a new set of water pollution rules designed to help clean up polluted waterways and it looks as though the tougher standards will cost you more money.

However, right now it's unclear how much it'll cost you.

Environmental and business groups have been battling in federal court over pollution rules for years.

Earthjustice attorney David Guest has led a lawsuit aiming to create stricter rules that would help prevent the so-called green slime outbreaks plaguing waterways like the St. Johns River in recent years.

Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to order a mix of state and federal pollution rules across Florida. But the two sides in the case disagree over which rules will be used predominantly.

Guest says tougher federal government rules will apply to more than 80 percent of Florida's 100,000 miles of waterways with the rest following state rules.

But the Florida Chamber of Commerce contends state rules will mainly be used.

"To our understanding the EPA has accepted the DEP rules regarding streams, lakes, estuaries, the largest amount of waters in the state. What's still left to be determined has to do with canals," said Latecia Adams of the Chamber of Commerce.

Guest disagrees, saying the rules from the state Department of Environmental Protection will affect a small amount of water in Florida.

"A very small segment, really, and they're vulnerable to legal attack. I think that some responsible conservationist, my clients potentially, may end up deciding to take that question to federal court and make it so that the federal rules apply everywhere."

The new standards target nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from fertilizer, leaky sewage plants and septic tanks. Those nutrients can cause toxic algae outbreaks, fish kills, and medical problems for people.

Guest believes there's a desperate need for strict numeric pollution standards.

"There's a ride tide outbreak now in southwest Florida. They're growing in frequency. People are leaving coastal houses and moving to other places. Tourists have slowed down coming there. You go out on the beach in places like that when the rid tide's out there and you start coughing. You can't be out there. It's dangerous to get in the water."

Both sides predict higher costs for consumers as a result of the new pollution rules but both agree the costs will not be exorbitant, as opponents of stricter pollution rules originally argued.

Guest estimates the ultimate cost will be about 25 cents per person in Florida per month.

"There's maybe 50 or so sewage treatment plants that need to be updated in Florida. It'll cost a lot of money to upgrade. It'll take along time to get the financing together but these updates are needed and they will be implemented. That's one of the biggest costs."

Adams says it looks as though the costs to the business community will be OK if state rules are adopted.

"Florida DEP has done a tremendous job in creating a set of rules that are right for Florida's water, Florida's biology and protecting our waters in a way that's necessary for Florida's growth, not federal growth."

Dave Heller

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