Monday, October 14, 2014
Florida’s geology, topography and watercourses are no others in the nation, dominated by vast floodplains along the coast and countless wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes inland. Virtually all of these features are connected underground by our precious aquifer system, through sandy soils and porous limestone.
Because Florida is only slightly above sea level and relatively flat, its history is replete with, and its lifestyle is dependent upon, the effective management of stormwater. As a result, Florida is crisscrossed by ditches, canals and ponds for flood control, irrigation, stormwater management and water quality improvement. Additionally, Florida, which leads the nation in water quality efforts, recently approving numeric nutrient standards designed to keep its waters healthy and clean.
All of these factors make Florida particularly susceptible to the proposed rule changes by the Environmental Protection Agency to the Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act.
The Associated Industries of Florida’s Florida H20 Coalition urges caution with the EPA defining what waters will be covered by the Clean Water Act, as the scope of the proposed changes and the legal reform in terms of permitting is pretty drastic. We believe that if the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were to expand the scope of federal jurisdiction under the definitions currently laid out, it would negatively impact local governments, farmers and other landowners.
Already, Florida is getting ready to implement the new numeric nutrient criteria, and utility rate customers will have to pay for this expensive program. Just last year, Florida negotiated the right to write its own NNC rule, after the EPA was scientifically off the mark when first presenting the rule. Now, the EPA is looking to put another federal mandate on the backs of Floridians.
We also have reason to believe that the economic projections prepared by the EPA significantly underestimate compliance costs. While the EPA’s economic impact analysis estimates all 50 states will be on the hook for $231 million, a recent fiscal impact study completed in Florida indicates that just four of Florida’s 67 counties would be looking at an estimate of $4 billion, with Seminole County alone facing an estimate of $1.53 billion.
The expansion of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction to marginal waters, such as stormwater ditches and ponds, could prevent financially constrained local governments from addressing other important environmental initiatives. Similar challenges would face a number of local governments that are dealing with the cost of sea-level rise and the restoration of critical natural waters, such as the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie Estuary or the renowned springs of North Florida. Instead of funding these important efforts, limited resources would be forcibly directed toward municipal storm system upgrades. The EPA and Army Corps should share our belief that environmental restoration, not stormwater system expansion, is a more prudent use of taxpayer dollars.
As such, it is time for the EPA and the Army Corps to take a renewed and very hard look at its own economic analysis and extend the comment period for affected stakeholders in an effort to gain a more accurate cost estimate, while creating opportunities to identify more cost-effective approaches that still protect the environment. Even the Small Business Administration, the federal agency tasked with providing support and advocating for America’s small businesses, agreed recently that the rule would hurt small businesses and urged the EPA to withdraw the proposed regulation.
At this juncture, we support Congressman Steve Southerland’s H.R. 5078, the WOTUS Regulatory Overreach Protection Act, which recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R. 5078 leads to a better rule and requires the EPA and Army Corps to conduct a transparent, representative and open consultation with state and local officials to develop a consensus about those waters that should be under federal jurisdiction. H.R. 5078 is consistent with the CWA and would allow all other waters to remain under the jurisdiction of the various states, where they can appropriately address the diversity and availability of water and land features and how best to protect them. This legislation will lay a foundation that will achieve environmental benefits and ensure our nation’s ability to engage in the kind of robust economic activity that sustains and supports Americans working in all sectors of the economy.
Tom Feeney is president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Florida (http://aif.com). AIF’s Florida H2O Coalition brings together stakeholders interested in water quantity and quality issues in Florida and seeks to review and make recommendations on state and federal water laws and rules impacting Florida.