Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Takes Regulatory Reform Series on the Road

August 9, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC - Continuing its examination of harmful and onerous government regulations, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), today convened a field hearing in Orlando, Florida. The hearing, entitled "EPA's Takeover of Florida's Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Communities and Job Creation," is the sixth in the subcommittee's Regulatory Reform Series. Stearns had pressed the EPA in April on the rulemaking and its potential impact on Florida jobs. The state of Florida's $5.7 billion to $8.4 billion annual cost estimate is 20 to 40 fold higher than the EPA's estimates, with thousands of jobs at risk.

"As Floridians work to get back on their feet, the federal government's efforts must be focused on improving our economy and creating jobs," said Stearns. "Unfortunately for the 982,000 currently unemployed Floridians, EPA's unprecedented and potentially costly water mandates threaten to harm Florida's citizens, local governments, and vital sectors of our economy - with no certain benefit for improved water quality. Disturbingly, EPA's approach may result in numerous waters being labeled as "˜impaired,' even though they are not, and direct taxpayer resources away from necessary environmental work, while blocking business growth and jobs creation in the meantime. For example, Cross Bayou, within the Tampa Bay Estuary System, has an extensive oyster reef that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has described as pristine. Yet the water quality of this area does not come close to meeting EPA's standard. This is not sensible regulation."

In September 2007, EPA approved Florida's plan for developing numeric nutrient criteria.  Florida's plan had a projected completion date of early to mid-2011. In July 2008, a number of environmental advocacy organizations sued EPA for failure to set its own numeric nutrient criteria for Florida.  In January 2009, EPA abruptly reversed its position with regard to Florida's standard setting process and determined that EPA would have to issue its own nutrient standards for Florida to comply with the Clean Water Act, preempting the state's delegated authority in the matter.  At this point, Florida had neither abandoned its effort nor even submitted criteria or implementation plans which EPA had disapproved. Nevertheless, in August 2009, EPA, without state involvement, entered into a Consent Decree with certain environmental advocacy organizations in which the Agency agreed to issue rules establishing numeric nutrient criteria for Florida by certain dates.

Paul Steinbrecher, President of the Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council, raised concerns with EPA's questionable science, stating,  "EPA should only derive nutrient criteria rules based on sound science. Unfortunately, EPA's nutrient rule is rooted in poor science -- and litigation.  In order to prompt settlement of a lawsuit, EPA committed to developing and finalizing numeric nutrient standards for Florida's thousands of miles of diverse rivers, streams, lakes, and springs on an unreasonably rapid timeframe.  In so doing, EPA made promises they couldn't keep. To meet the settlement agreement timeframes, EPA took shortcuts in their science.  Their methods do not ensure a cause and effect relationship between their criteria and an environmental outcome, particularly for Florida's rivers and streams.  Instead, EPA set stringent and generalized standards based on crude statistical assumptions that disregard the diversity of Florida's flowing waters."

Richard Budell, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Director of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy testified why Florida was best positioned to set its own standards, stating, "Florida believes that Florida is best positioned to assess the health of its waters and establish associated water quality criteria for their protection and restoration.  We believe that our track record for the implementation of progressive and successful water resource management programs is one of the best in the country, and demonstrates the commitment and determination to further its comprehensive program through the development and implementation of state-derived numeric nutrient criteria.  Florida has earned the right to exercise the authority envisioned by the Clean Water Act to develop its own water quality standards and implement them through an EPA approved and predictable process governed by existing state law."

Budell also testified on the costs of implementation. EPA estimated the range of total costs to implement the Florida nutrient criteria at between $135 million and $236 million annually.  According to Budell, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, working in cooperation with the University of Florida Agricultural Resource Economics Department, estimated the implementation costs just for agricultural land uses at between $900 million and $1.6 billion annually and could result in the loss of over 14,000 jobs. He also testified that preliminary estimates from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection predict the implementation costs for urban storm water upgrades alone at nearly $2 billion annually.  A study commissioned by a large coalition of Florida-based public and private entities estimated the total implementation costs at between $1 billion and $8.4 billion annually.

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