TALLAHASSEE — Legislation that would clear the path for a pair of state water pollution rules supported by business, agriculture and utility interests won approval Friday from the Florida House. Some environmental groups, though, say the rules are too weak and prefer tougher federal standards.
Technically, the bill (HB 7051) would waive a legal requirement for legislative approval of the rules. The Florida Department of Environment Protection drafted the rules as an alternative to the stricter standards proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it's also expected to pass, and then on to Gov. Rick Scott, who supports the state rules.
That, however, won't be the final word on the matter. The environmental groups have filed an administrative law challenge. They also need final ratification by EPA, which has given them preliminary approval.
Both sets of rules would set numeric nutrient criteria to replace the imprecise verbal standards the state now uses. Environmentalists, though, contend the state's version would do little or nothing to prevent or clean up algae blooms choking many of Florida's lakes, rivers and other inland water bodies.
Nutrients from such pollutants as sewage, animal manure and fertilizer feed the algae.
Opponents of the federal rules argue they will be too costly. A study commissioned by the state estimates they'd cost utility customers and businesses from $298 million to $4.7 billion a year while the state proposal would range from $51 million to $150 million.
The EPA, though, has estimated its rules would cost only $135 million to $206 million.
The federal rules are the result of an agreement EPA made in 2009 to settle a lawsuit by the environmental groups. They assert EPA was violating federal law by failing to require the state to implement numeric limits for nitrogen and phosphate.
Sierra Club Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and St. Johns Riverkeeper now are asking a state administrative law judge to reject the state's rules.
The groups allege they are arbitrary and contradict existing law. A hearing is set for next week, but the environmental groups are seeking a delay until late February.