Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Water Quality Legislative Alert

Please call members of House Agriculture and Natural Resources this morning before Noon and urge them to vote against these bad bills.  Committee contact information is below.  Telephone calls are best, but if you can’t call, please send an email.

HB 239 - Numeric Nutrient Water Quality Criteria by Rep. Trudi Williams will keep state agencies and local communities from putting the new EPA water quality standards to work. 

The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s inland waters will take effect March 6, 2012 and the criteria for South Florida and estuarine systems will be published on or before Nov. 11, 2011. 

Sierra Club Florida joined with four other environmental groups in 2008 to sue EPA to force them to set numeric nutrient criteria for Florida and end the unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for nutrient pollution.
Polluters have whipped themselves into a frenzy claiming the EPA criteria will cost the state billions of dollars.  They say that they will have to use reverse osmosis plants to bring nutrient levels down to the levels
 required by EPA.  Their position is that clean water is too expensive, and that Florida’s waters are clean already.  They continue to ignore the facts: 
  • The St. John’s River suffered a 100 mile long algal bloom last summer
  • Waterfront properties in Martin County alone saw a loss of half a billion dollars in value in 2005 because of algae
  • The Olga Water Treatment Plant that provides drinking water to 30,000 citizens in SW Florida was shut down because of an algal bloom that produced nerve toxins
  • State scientists found in 2010 that more than 1,918 miles of rivers and streams, 378,435 acres of lakes, and 569 square miles of estuaries are badly polluted. 

EPA’s estimate of the cost to Florida is much lower – between $135 and $206 million.  And since EPA has stated in the Federal Register that it will not require reverse osmosis for industrial point sources or municipal wastewater treatment plants, the agency cannot change its position and require it a few years from now. 

The cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of cleaning up Florida's waterways.   Fertilizer runoff, industrial pollution and raw sewage spills have added enormous loads of nitrogen and phosphorus to our rivers, lakes, streams and bays.  That nutrient pollution feeds red tides and harmful algae blooms which devastate our fisheries, makes people sick, lowers property values and shuts down coastal tourism.  

HB 991 – Environmental Permitting by Rep. Patronis brings back a number of bad “streamlining” proposals designed to make it easier for businesses and harder for citizens to protect their communities and the environment.

The Growth Management Act gives the Department of Community Affairs oversight of local government comprehensive plans.  But the enforcement mechanism is left to citizen challenge to local comp plan amendments .  This bill weakens the ability of citizens to challenge bad comp plan amendments by attacking “standing.”  The bill:
·         Narrows the definition of “affected person” to require persons affected by local government comprehensive plans to demonstrate that their substantial interests will be affected in order to challenge comprehensive plan changes. (Section 6 of the bill)
·         Narrows the definition of “aggrieved or adversely affected party” to require that any local government or person must demonstrate that their substantial interest will be affected in order to be granted standing to challenge the development order. (Section 7 of the bill)
·         Standing is further reduced for community members by the striking of the sentence “No demonstration of special injury different in kind from the general public at large is required.”  In other words, standing to challenge “any administrative, licensing, or other proceedings authorized by law for the protection of the air, water, or other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment, or destruction…”  may now be denied any person who cannot show “special injury”. (Section 19 of the bill)
These definition changes limit the standing of people in the community and will prevent people who live in an area but who will not suffer specific financial losses from challenging bad planning decisions.

The bill expands “self-certification” which means that people who need a permit can state that their small project is in compliance with all requirements.   But there is no provision for spot checking whether the self-certified applications are accurate, or for sanctions if they are not. (Sections 10 and 14)

HB 991 also reduces the state’s ability to revoke a permit by requiring the Department to find that the applicant knowingly submitted the false or inaccurate information.  It’s very hard to prove what a person knew.  The fact that the information was wrong should be sufficient to revoke the permit.  The bill also limits revocation of permits to violations directly related to the permit in question as opposed to current law that provides that a permit may be revoked for any violation.  The potential loss of a permit serves as an incentive for applicants to be accurate and truthful in their applications, and to comply with related regulations. (Section 18 of the bill)

The bill reduces the time for approval or denial of an application for a license from 90 to 60 days despite cuts in funding and staff. (Section 2 of the bill)

HB 991 directs local governments to define the construction and operation of a bio-fuel processing facility as a valid industrial/agricultural/silviculture use permitted within land use categories in local comprehensive plans; directs local governments to establish expedited review process of comprehensive plan amendments should a biomass facility not be found in original comp plan.  (Section 3 of the bill)

The rationale for this provision is that biofuel facilities need to be near the feedstock in order that their overall energy use is less than the energy they produce.  However, these facilities are clearly industrial in nature and communities should be able to have a say.

The bill also calls for more mitigation banking.  Sierra Club Florida’s position is that actual mitigation of development impact is preferable to mitigation banking.  In other words, preserve the natural systems that are already there rather than setting up artificial mitigation areas that don’t have the same complexity and value as the destroyed resource.  (Section 25 of the bill)

House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee,
(Please call before noon today) Tuesday, February 22, 2011.
Please call to urge ‘No’ votes on
  • HB 239 – Numeric Nutrient Water Quality Criteria
  • HB 991 – Environmental Permitting

First Name
Last Name
District City
Local Phone
Email Address
(850) 488-4086
Jason T.
(850) 488-0468
Dwight M.
Bullard (D)
Town of Cutler Bay
(850) 488-5430
Burgin, Vice Chair
(850) 488-9910
Fort Myers
(850) 488-1541
Crisafulli, Chair
Merritt Island
(850) 488-4669
Luis R.
Garcia, Jr. (L)
(850) 488-9930
Plant City
(850) 488-0807
(850) 488-3006
Steven M. ''Steve''
Boca Raton
(850) 488-5588
(850) 488-7754
Elizabeth W.
Lake City
(850) 488-9835
Rehwinkel Vasilinda, Ranking Member
(850) 488-0965
(850) 488-0590
Jimmie T.
Smith (J)
(850) 488-0805

David Cullen, Sierra Club Florida lobbyist