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Federal judge allows EPA to set pollution limits

TALLAHASSEE -- A federal judge on Monday authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on the flow of pollution into Florida's waterways, rejecting a challenge from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson and a coalition of major agricultural, business and utility groups.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle approved the settlement between the EPA and environmental groups, which filed a lawsuit in 2008 asking the federal government to intervene because the state wasn't enforcing clean water laws.

The judge was critical of the state Department of Environmental Protection's 11-year delays in setting water quality standards, asking repeatedly, "How much more time do you need?" He also was openly skeptical of the main arguments articulated by attorneys for the state and business groups, including most points made in a recent press conference.

"What you want me to do (is say that) even if Florida's regulation is inadequate, let it go, not do what the act requires because economic times are hard and (water quality) is worse somewhere else?" the judge asked. "That would be a lawless decision."

The EPA is expected to announce its first set of standards in January 2010, despite protests that the limits will cost businesses too much money. Opponents are expected to continue to fight those limits in the future.

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