News Feature | January 31, 2014

Florida Gets Positive Ruling In Nutrient Case

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

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Florida received good news recently in a lengthy legal battle about who gets to regulate its waters.

As the January court ruling put it: "This is the latest chapter in a long-running dispute over nutrient criteria for Florida waters." The law firm Arnold & Porter explained the court decision marks an "important, if not decisive, milestone in the long Florida nutrient regulation controversy."

The backdrop, per a Water Online report in December: "The EPA was on the verge of setting numerical limits for Florida’s freshwater lakes and estuaries in lieu of the state coming up with their own, but withdrew the prospective rule once Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) came forth with a plan of action. Implementation of the FDEP standards is still on hold, however, pending the outcome of a court challenge issued in Florida’s Northern District."

In January, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled "in support of the EPA's motion to modify the consent decree regarding numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s waters," according to Sunshine State News

Fleshing out more of the backdrop, the law firm Vinson & Elkins noted that in this lengthy fight, environmentalists had "argued that the criteria were too lax to satisfy EPA’s 2009 determination that numeric nutrient limits were necessary to protect water quality in Florida."

So what does the ruling mean?

"What it means is that federal rulemaking for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Florida's waterways is discontinued and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can now implement what the FDEP calls 'the most comprehensive numeric nutrient criteria in the nation,'" according to the News

Florida officials praised the decision. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called the ruling "a testament to Florida’s proven ability to manage its own water resource protection and restoration programs," according to the news report.

Putnam continued in the News report:  “Judge Hinkle’s ruling opens the door for EPA to fulfill its commitment to the Legislature and withdraw all of its final and pending rules, paving the way for Florida to reassume the lead role in managing this vital natural resource.”

Some advocacy groups, including the Fertilizer Institute, issued statements of support for the ruling. 

What now?

An explanation from Arnold & Porter: "The only step now remaining for Florida’s nutrient water quality criteria (NNC) to become effective is for EPA to issue a notice — subject to public comment — withdrawing both the already finalized federal NNC for lakes and its pending proposed federal NNC for streams, estuaries and coastal waters." 

The ramifications of this ruling could extend beyond Florida. "It may have significant implications for all stakeholders potentially interested in EPA regulation of nutrient discharges throughout the country," the law firm said.

Image credit: "Florida Trail Seminole State Forest," © 2009 B A Bowen Photography, used under a Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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