Agreement reached on Florida numeric nutrient criteria

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) reached an agreement regarding who will implement Florida’s numeric nutrient criteria to prevent the state’s waterways from excess nitrogen and phosphorus.

The agreement will allow FDEP to implement the numeric nutrient criteria. This agreement will allow EPA to withdraw the federal NNC for Florida, which could have cost the state’s agricultural community more than $1 billion annually. The agreement is contingent on Florida’s Legislature acting to direct FDEP to move forward.

The announcement was greeted with approval from the fertilizer and agriculture industries. The Fertilizer Institute called it a “tremendous victory” for the fertilizer industry.

“Nutrients occur naturally and in balanced concentrations contribute to healthy ecosystems,” said TFI Vice President of Scientific Programs Bill Herz. “We are extremely pleased with this agreement and the overall efforts of a unified industry and agriculture community.  We have long argued that nutrients cannot be treated like traditional pollutants and have consistently held that strict federal NNC are not the best way to regulate them in waterways.”

The agreement is precedent setting as it confirms that states, not the federal government, are best equipped to protect their own waters, TFI said. Second, it leaves in place an earlier U.S. District Court decision to vacate EPA’s streams standard and the downstream protective value; tools that could be used to set NNC elsewhere.  This is important today as environmental groups are pushing EPA to utilize similar means to address nutrients in the Mississippi River Basin. 

The Agricultural Retailers Association was also pleased by the decision.

"This is a favorable development as the agreement will allow the state of Florida to establish the numeric nutrient standards rather than EPA," said Richard Gupton, senior vice president, public policy and counsel, ARA. "ARA has been involved with the industry lawsuits on this issue with TFI and other ag groups. A similar  fight is taking place regarding the Mississippi River Basin lawsuit."

This agreement, once implemented and completed, coupled with EPA’s prior (Nov. 30, 2012) approval of FDEP’s newly adopted water quality standards, will result in Florida having numeric nutrient criteria for lakes, springs, estuaries and coastal waters, and the vast majority of flowing waters in the state, according to the Agricultural Retailers Association.

 ARA goes on to say that the plan includes proposing state legislation and adopting additional state rules that, when combined, will eliminate the need for continued dual rulemaking and secure the foundation for a singular, state-led solution for the state of Florida. Currently, state and federal rules are in place for some Florida waterbodies.  The proposed legislation would require the Department to complete its nutrient criteria rulemaking for remaining coastal and estuarine waters by Dec. 1, 2014, and establish interim nutrient standards until then. The legislation would further codify requirements for nutrient conditions in all managed conveyances and canals, and makes it clear that all state criteria will go into effect when EPA removes the federal criteria and ceases future rulemaking.

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