Judge clears way for DEP to set state water standards
A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can lift remaining federal hurdles to allow the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set new water standards within the state.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle on Tuesday supported the EPA’s modifications to a 2009 consent decree that had required the EPA to adopt numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s waters unless the state did so first.
Environmental groups, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper, opposed the modification and had sought to have the decree enforced.
The groups were party to the consent decree. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a prepared statement that the ruling backed “Florida’s proven ability to manage its own water resource protection and restoration programs.”
The EPA and DEP reached agreements in November 2012 and March 2013 allowing the state agency to establish the new numeric nutrient criteria for 98.9 percent of the bodies of water in Florida.
In September, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the state approval to include the estuaries across the Panhandle, Big Bend and Springs Coast to the list of previously permitted bodies for the state to set its own nutrient standards.
The Legislature approved a measure (HB 1808) — signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott on May 30 — that allows the state to set the new nitrogen and phosphorus levels.
The bill was a priority of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida and a requirement of the EPA and DEP agreements.