EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have struck a deal that would hand responsibility for reducing water pollution entirely to the state.
The announcement is the latest in a perennial battle fought by environmentalists, EPA and Florida over establishing numeric pollution limits for nutrients.
Previously, Florida, like most other states, had relied on "narrative standards" aimed at limiting algae blooms and fish kills. Environmentalists insist that narrative standards are not protective enough, and they sued.
EPA signed off in Nov. 2012 on a state rule setting numeric limits on nutrients in springs, lakes, streams and some estuaries. Environmentalists, though, said this leaves 85 percent of state waters unprotected, so EPA proposed its own rule for the remaining water bodies and to comply with a 2009 consent decree between the agency and conservation groups.
In the agreement, the state would adopt additional rules and propose new legislation in exchange for EPA withdrawing its proposed rules.
The draft legislation would require the state DEP to set limits by Dec. 1, 2014, on phosphorus and nitrogen for the remaining coastal and estuarine waters that its current rule does not cover.
It also would codify nutrient standards in ditches and canals.
The agreement was publically hailed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Florida DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr., and the Florida Farm Bureau.
Environmental groups believe the agreement will leave the vast majority of Florida waters unprotected and contend that EPA has changed its position about what it will take to ensure the health of Florida waters.
Agricultural groups have been carefully monitoring this situation in Florida, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Initiative, as EPA attempts to reduce nutrient loads — which are legally tricky actions because the Clean Water Act gives the federal agency no jurisdiction over non-point sources, but instead authorizes the states to implement best management practices to deal with them.