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EPA limits on water pollution get political

The EPA's decision to set water pollution limits in Florida is quickly becoming a political issue -- and given the potential effect on big business and big agriculture, one that is attracting a litany of special interests.

Michael Sole, the state's Department of Environmental Protection secretary, briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday. All members, in particular Attorney General Bill McCollum who called the EPA's actions "outrageous," appear ready to go to court to challenge the federal government if they don't like the number set in January.

Already one legislative committee heard from DEP about the issue and a second group of lawmakers will get briefed this afternoon.

The forces aligned against the EPA -- led by Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who expressed skepticism in global warming yesterday -- are making presentations with heightened rhetoric about a standard that the federal government hasn't even set yet. Likewise, the environmental groups that settled the lawsuit with the EPA continue to parade the same series of enlarged algae bloom photos to prove their point.

But in an interview, Sole clarified a few points that should quiet the crowd's draconian predictions -- if they listen.

The main talking point from opponents: the EPA won't use science to make its decision, it will let politics dictate. Bronson suggested the feds will pick the number out of the air.

Asked if there is any indication to suggest this, Sole said no.

"No they will use science," he said. "The question is: is it sound science? I believe it's there intent to use sound science."

In fact, the EPA is using the state's data to set the number, Sole said.

Sole's concern is the methodology. He said the federal government takes a conservative approach to setting pollution limits. But he wants to factor in the cost, so as to not make it too burdensome on businesses, municipalities and agriculture."Because of significant cost in infrastructure we need to be looking more and more to what is necessary instead of just taking a conservative approach," he said.

A point often emphasized by environmental groups is how the state dragged its feet, spending 10 years doing research without establishing the narrative pollution standards.

But Sole said EPA and Earthjustice entered the consent decree the day before he planned to brief an environmental regulatory commission on the state's proposed standards."I believe we would have had  those standards in place and done this year," he said.