Sunday, January 30, 2011

Evers, Ingram shift the responsibility for nutrient pollution to Ag and utilities

This past week the Florida Independent, the Ocala Banner, Capitol Soup and the St. Petersburg Times (among others) reported on two new state legislative bills that would wipe out local urban fertilizer pollution prevention across the state. 

This would not be good for Ag or Wastewater professionals.  If residential Florida is allowed to shirk its responsibility for nutrient pollution then the entire burden will fall on our farmers and our utilities.  Agriculture and wastewater industries should raise their voices against preemption just as cities, counties, stormwater professionals and water quality advocates do when this type of legislation is proposed. 

The proposed legislation is just the most recent part of a story that actually began in 2005 when it became obvious that too many Florida water bodies had reached the tipping points for nitrogen and phosphorous pollution; that year all over the state natural populations of harmful and nuisance algae became overfed to the point of population explosion.

When gulf coast communities started exploring low-cost solutions to their nutrient pollution problems, they looked to UF-IFAS and FDEP for direction.  What they found was over a decade of strong recommendations to limit the use of lawn and landscape fertilizers.  So, in an attempt to spend the fewest tax dollars possible to get their waterways below that dangerous tipping point, they codified the IFAS and FDEP recommendations into strong local urban fertilizer ordinances.

Immediately of course, the purveyors of urban fertilizers raised the alarm that lawns and lawn care companies would suffer and began to lobby for state legislation to strip local communities of their right to protect their own water.  In response, the legislature created a Task Force to research the issue and the Task Force unanimously found that local control of fertilizer management was needed.

Since that time, bills to preempt local control of fertilizer management have been backed by the fertilizer industry each and every legislative session.  In 2008, 2009 and 2010, the legislature, across party lines, rejected the idea of preemption because prevention saves tax dollars and protects every single job in the state that depends on the high water quality that draws tourists, hunters, fishermen and retirees to our shores (and that is a lot of jobs).

Now, in 2011, after over 40 communities have adopted strong ordinances, and there is zero proof of any damage to turf or landscape maintenance jobs, the fertilizer industry is back to its old tricks.  It has found Panhandle friends in Representative Clay Ingram and Senator Greg Evers.  The new bills would not only get rid of all future and past adopted ordinances, but also gut the 2009 statute of all of the Task Force’s findings regarding the nutrient pollution problem and how best to tackle it. 

Do Evers and Ingram think the communities along the St. Johns River (where a 100-mile long algal bloom and fish kill wreaked havoc on this summer’s tourism and commercial fishing economies) will forget about their annual Green Monster if the legislature cuts the nutrient pollution problem language out of the statute?  I don’t think so.

Local communities can save hundreds of thousands to millions of tax dollars a year by preventing nutrient pollution with fertilizer regulation.  If the legislature strips these communities of their prevention strategies then who will be liable for the needed infrastructure expenditures?  Will the legislature pay the bills?  Will the fertilizer industry pay? 

We know someone will have to pay.  Tax payers should raise their voices now to make sure this legislation is defeated because you can bet we will be on the hook if the fertilizer industry gets its way.

Cris Costello
Regional Representative
Sierra Club