Thursday, March 18, 2010

Florida Gets Another Reprieve, In Part, From Numerical Standards

I have written several posts about the EPA’s decision, in settlement of a lawsuit, to enact numerical standards for nutrient pollution in Florida. The original settlement called for the EPA to have issued such criteria by now. Two months ago the EPA extended the comment period for its proposed criteria – a step that many expected.

Yesterday the EPA issued a new letter to the Florida DEP stating its intention to delay the implementation of numerical standards for estuaries and coastal waters until 2011. In addition, the EPA will apparently seek “additional third party review,” to be announced next month, to review the scientific basis for water standards applicable to these environments.

For environmentalists this is bad news in as much as it delays the implementation of standards until next year. For those who oppose new environmental regulation, that regulation has just been put off a year for a large swathe of areas that would otherwise be affected.

I believe however that this announcement is a good thing in the end. Numerical nutrient regulations are probably necessary, but given their complexity should not be rushed into. If the regulations are going to be meaningful they need to be backed up by science addressing the particular environments to be regulated – something that is thin on the ground at the moment. Remember, unlike other contaminants, these are compounds that are both naturally occurring and necessary for normal aquatic ecosystems. Appropriate levels of these compounds can also vary from one water environment to another. As a result, generalized standards are neither appropriate nor possible.

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