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Legislators will replace post-Mosaic pollution rule with law requiring 24-hour notice

In the wake of the Mosaic fertilizer spill last summer, Florida legislators are drafting a law to require companies and local officials to notify the public when pollution threatens public drinking water.

The legislation, being drafted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, is in response to a judge's ruling on Friday that rejected an emergency rule imposed by Gov. Rick Scott in September. Scott's rule was imposed after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic, the world's largest phosphate company, failed to notify the public for more than three weeks that the company had dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Florida aquifer.

After DEP claimed it had no obligation to notify the public about the pollution problem unless the contamination showed up beyond the borders of the company's property, the resulting public outcry provoked the governor to order the emergency rule. The rule required the owner or operator of a facility to notify DEP, local government and the general public of the pollution event within 24 hours of the onset of the contamination.

Scott said he was taking that step not only because of the sinkhole at the Mosaic facility in Mulberry, but also because of the delay in St. Petersburg officials reporting the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that the city's aging wastewater system released into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine.

The rule, which was posted Nov. 15, was challenged by business groups as Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Trucking Association. 

But Judge Bram D. E. Canter said in the 19-page order on Friday that DEP had overstepped its authority in approving the new rule and that only the state Legislature can enact such a change in how the public is notified regarding pollution.

“This ruling is disappointing for Floridians who deserve prompt notification when potentially hazardous pollution occurs in their communities,” said House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa in a statement on Tuesday. “However, the Legislature now has the opportunity to craft a permanent solution that will protect the health and safety of our citizens while preserving our environmental resources for future generations. I am heartened that Gov. Scott has made this issue a priority and House Democrats look forward to working with him on this vital protection for Floridians.”

Galvano and Peters each told the Herald/Times they are working with the governor's office to draft the legislation to achieve the goals sought by the original rule.

The issue promises to be a controversial one, however, as several lobbying organizations, have signed up to weigh in on the issue, according to the House's lobbyists disclosure portal. Among them is the Helena Chemical Company, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Gas Transmission Company, the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Associations of Realtors, the Florida Energy Pipeline Association and the Florida Association of Counties. 

Tampa Bay reporter Craig Pittman contributed to this report.