Rep. Rooney seeks to block EPA's water pollution limits
Florida's infamous, choking, toxic green algae
From the Now We’ve Seen Everything Department (A large and busy department here in the Sunshine State):
Florida Republican Congressman Tom Rooney has introduced language into the federal budget bill to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing important new public health protections for Florida.
As you’ve read in this space before, the EPA’s new water pollution limits are designed to control the public health threat posed by the green slime that continually breaks out on Florida waterways. This horrid slime is fed by partially treated sewage, animal waste and fertilizer pollution. (Pictures here. ) Florida health authorities have had to close swimming areas and drinking water plants because of this toxic algae. The algae outbreaks can cause breathing problems, sores, rashes, illness, and even death.
The EPA’s new limits for the pollutants phosphorus and nitrogen (which come from sewage, animal waste and fertilizer) finally address a health threat that has gone on too long. Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection first sounded the alarm about the dangers of toxic algae outbreaks in a 2000 scientific report – 11 years ago!
It is hard to believe Rooney would try to block this pollution cleanup when we look at what happened in the Southeast Florida district he represents. In 2005, one of the worst toxic algae outbreaks ever recorded happened on the coastal St. Lucie River and estuary. The entire river was covered with bright green slime and it wasn’t safe to even touch the water. Waterfront property values in the area suffered a permanent decline of a whopping $500 million after the outbreak.
Last summer, Floridians endured the worst algae outbreak in years – a 100-mile long toxic algae slime covered the St. Johns River, fouling the water for boating and swimming and piling up dead fish along the riverbanks.
Congressman Rooney is clearly at odds with the public. When the EPA asked the public to comment on the new water pollution limits, the agency received 22,000 comments, and 20,000 were in support of the new limits.
The new limits were developed jointly by the EPA and Florida’s DEP after scientists at the two agencies reviewed 13,000 water samples at 2,200 sites around the state.
Florida is ready and willing to start this cleanup. Two years ago, then-Florida DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole acknowledged the state’s serious problem with the so-called “nutrients” phosphorus and nitrogen. He issued this statement in January 2009:
The State of Florida recognizes that more needs to be done to address nutrient pollution in our rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries … Excess nitrogen and phosphorus levels (nutrient pollution) in water bodies can cause harm to aquatic ecosystems and threaten public health.
Nutrient pollution can lead to water quality problems such as harmful algal blooms, low-oxygen “dead zones” in water bodies and declines in wildlife habitat. These effects also disrupt recreational activities and pose threats to public health.
Not a good scenario for a state that depends on tourism to run its economy. Rooney and the other members of the Florida congressional delegation should be standing up for clean water – not standing in the way of cleanup.
David Guest is the managing attorney of Earthjustice's Tallahassee office. In 1978, he graduated from the University of Chicago Law School where he was a member of the law review. He has a B.Sc. in Government and Economics from Florida State University. In his spare time, he takes friends out on his 1968 hand-built pontoon boat to watch birds, manatees and other wildlife.