By Peak Johnson
In Florida, members of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation argued with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) earlier this month about its handling of controversial new water pollution limits.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported that In May, the DEP introduced an update to human health criteria “for 43 chemical compounds that are allowed in Florida’s rivers, lakes and estuaries and [created] new limits for 39 others.”
The agency’s plan received a lot of criticism from environmental groups, not only because of the relaxed standards for some of the chemicals but also because of the way the agency presented the proposal.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported that on May 15 Florida wanted to weaken its restrictions on roughly two dozen cancer-causing chemicals that it would allow in its surface waters.
DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said the coverage "inaccurately and unfairly" depicted the agency's proposal.
"The state has some of the most comprehensive water quality standards in the country, including the most advanced numeric nutrient criteria in the entire nation," Steverson told the Tallahassee Democrat. "We will continue to coordinate with EPA to adopt standards that will ensure our residents and natural resources enjoy clean and safe water."
Originally, the DEP stated that it would take the proposal to the state Environmental Regulation Commission (ERC) for approval in the fall but changed the meeting to July. The ERC had then voted on the plan while two of its seats set aside for environmental and local government representation were vacant. The ERC in July approved the limits in a 3 to 2 vote.
Senator Jack Latvala asked “whether the agency factored in the vacancies when it moved up its timeline for ERC approval.”
“What was the rush, in other words?” Latvala asked. “Why something that is so important to our people’s health, so important to our state, nothing more important than water, why would we accelerate it like that?”
Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary for ecosystem restoration, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, replied by saying the agency saw no need to wait until the fall.
“We just did not have any reason to delay any longer,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said DEP couldn’t waive administrative rules. He also added that the criteria can still be challenged.
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