Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Florida's New Water Standards

Well, it’s a new year, and I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday season. And while most people are recovering from holiday excess, watching the fireworks in Washington, and the tragedy in Haiti, the EPA is continuing to tick along.

I have written twice before about litigation in Florida designed to force the EPA to enact numerical standards for nutrient pollution in Florida's waters. Those standards have now been issued. This begins a 60-day public comment period. Some estimate that the cost of complying with the proposed standards could exceed a billion dollars. A cost that will have to be borne by government and industry.

Certainly we can expect that the comment period – which may be extended – will be “vigorous.”

But the bigger question that has yet to play out is the impact of numerical standards on a national level – something for which this litigation has opened the door. And as expensive as numerical standards may be for Florida, the cost for other states could be even higher. Florida, unlike many states, already has a significant knowledge base regarding the quality of its waters - largely due to the diligence of various state and local agencies. States that have not been monitoring their water quality as diligently will have to do so if they are to have any hope of establishing scientifically valid nutrient standards. While the states should probably be doing this anyway, it isn't going to be cheap.

And in this age of economic woe, who is going to pay for it?

Most states are teetering on the edge of serious financial crisis – if they haven’t fallen over it already. The federal government is already up to its eyeballs in debt. And industry – at least the kinds of industry that will be affected by these new standards – isn’t exactly flush right now either.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand the compelling argument for the superiority of numerical standards over softer narrative standards. I think taking steps to prevent nutrient pollution is necessary. But the implementation of standards needs to be done in a balanced way, and the costs associated with the regulations need to be considered as part of the process. We should always strive to do better, but setting impossible or unrealistic goals only sets us up for failure.