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Florida's take on EPA water standards: 'Be afraid'

Florida's Congressional delegation sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today asking the agency to extend the comment period and expand public hearings on its water quality standards issued last month. The letter  -- signed by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux and 18 U.S. House members, led by Rep. Adam Putnam -- follows the first detailed remarks from Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole, who told a state House committee Wednesday to "be afraid" of some components of the new rules.

EPA is hosting two public forums at three locations Feb. 16 (Tallahassee), Feb. 17 (Orlando) and Feb. 18 (West Palm Beach) and soliciting comments for 60 days. 

Sole and EPA critics -- including Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson -- were surprisingly quiet when the standards were released. But now the campaign to fight them is gearing up. State lawmakers joined the chorus Wednesday with Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, wondering aloud why the lawsuit against the federal government isn't already filed. "What do we do other than seceding from the Union?" he asked.

Find the full text of the letter from the Congressional delegation below.

Dear Administrator Jackson:

As you know, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a proposed rule establishing numeric nutrient criteria for Florida water bodies. As part of a consent decree EPA entered into with several litigants, a commitment was made by EPA to issue a final rule by October 15, 2010, for lakes and flowing waters, and for estuaries and coastal waters by October 15, 2011. The proposed rule is lengthy, technical, and will take time for experts, much less lay stakeholders, to understand its implications. Moreover, there is some disagreement between scientists at the EPA and at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding the data each entity is using. It is our understanding the EPA will accept comments for sixty days from the date of publication in the Federal Register and has scheduled only three public hearings on the proposed rule to be held in Tallahassee, Orlando, and West Palm Beach from February 16 -18.

These regulations will impact every citizen, local governments, and the business community. The more time and information the public has to understand these rules provides more time to plan and consider the costs and benefits of implementation. Hosting three hearings in a narrow time period, in a state with more than 18 million residents is simply inadequate to review this complicated proposal. Furthermore, a sixty day comment period, which expires forty days after the date of the first public hearing, provides insufficient time for stakeholders to submit meaningful and comprehensive comments.

Therefore, we strongly urge you to extend the comment period and host additional public hearings throughout the state. Florida residents deserve a full and thorough public airing of these proposed regulations and adequate time to understand what will be required of them when the rules are implemented. An administration that has consistently advocated for more transparency within the governing process should welcome the opportunity to provide more stakeholders with a better understanding of these complex regulations in urban and rural areas alike.

Signers of the letter include:
Senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux, and Congressmen Tom Rooney, Allen Boyd, John Mica, Alcee Hastings, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Vern Buchanan, Cliff Stearns, C.W. Bill Young, Connie Mack, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Corrine Brown, Ander Crenshaw, Gus Bilirakis, Ginny Brown-Waite, Jeff Miller, and Suzanne Kosmas.