ERC’s Approval of Florida’s Water Quality Standards

In the past month, there have been several developments relating to Florida’s response to the EPA’s proposed Numeric Nutrient Standards, which have been the focus of much debate and discussion since they were proposed. The federal standards were widely criticized by agricultural and other business interests as overly-broad, not adequately supported by science and as needlessly expensive to implement. Implementation cost estimates (outside the EPA, which provided the lowest estimate) ranged from $1 billion to $8.4 billion annually. Much of that cost was directly related to agriculture, but much was projected to be paid directly by water utility customers.

On December 7, the Florida Environmental Regulatory Commission (“ERC”) approved rules for the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) which include some numeric standards in addition to the existing narrative standards.  Florida’s rules apply numeric standards more narrowly, and exclude South Florida canals from their implementation; a major point of contention over the EPA rules.  The EPA has indicated a willingness to allow the Florida rules to substitute for its own rules.

The DEP rules still must be approved by the Florida Legislature, and were challenged a few days before the ERC meeting in an administrative complaint filed by a group of environmental organizations led by Earthjustice.  But new DEP rules, in some form, will almost certainly be finalized in 2012.  EPA has extended the effective date of its Numeric Nutrient Standards until only March 2012, although it indicated a willingness to further extend that date if DEP’s rule was adopted by DEP but not yet fully authorized and implemented.

The new rules will likely affect agricultural, development and utility interests in ways that cannot yet be predicted with any certainty.  Dean Mead’s Agribusiness Industry Team will continue to monitor developments relating to these standards, and will issue updates when appropriate.  If you would like to be added to the Agribusiness Industry Team email list for to receive client e-Alerts, please ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­send a request to