Saturday, October 3, 2009

Polluters Pay to Play in Florida? State to Intervene Against EPA

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson Sides With Polluters

Commissioner fights against cleaning up poisoned waters

October 1, 2009

Tallahassee, FL -- Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson is siding
with the state's worst polluters to fight against cleaning up poisoned waters.

In August, in a historic move, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
signed a consent decree in which it agreed to set legal limits for the
widespread nutrient poisoning that triggers harmful algae blooms, like the one
pictured to the right, in Florida waters.

Instead of working to make the public's water cleaner and safer, Bronson is
spending tax dollars to help special interests like the Florida Pulp and Paper
Association and Big Agriculture block the clean water settlement. The Florida
Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services filed a motion to intervene in
the case on the polluters' side.

"This is shameful," said Earthjustice Attorney David Guest. "There are toxic
algae blooms all over the state, water treatment plants closing due to nutrient
poisoning, and yet Bronson directs the state to work for the polluters and
against the people."

Nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen poison Florida's waters every time it
rains; running off agricultural operations, fertilized landscapes, and septic
systems. The poison runoff triggers algae outbreaks which foul Florida's
beaches, lakes, rivers, and springs more each year, threatening public health,
closing swimming areas, and even shutting down water plants.

In a 2008 report, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
concluded that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had
poor water quality.

The St. Johns River is currently under a health advisory due to a toxigenic
blue green algae bloom. In 2005, a similar bloom shut down all boat traffic on
the river.

Tampa Bay suffered an outbreak this year of Pyrodinium bahamense and
Takayama tuberculata has sullied waters around San Marco Island.

Potentially toxigenic cyanobacteria have been found statewide, including
Southwest Florida's Caloosahatchee River. In the Southeast, toxin levels in
the St. Lucie River and estuary during an algae bloom in 2005 were 300 times
above suggested drinking water limits and 60 times above suggested
recreational limits. Health authorities posted signs warning visitors and
residents not to come into contact with the water.

Lake Okeechobee, a South Florida drinking water source, is now subject to
almost year-round blue-green algae blooms due to nutrient pollution.

Nutrient pollution also fuels the explosive growth of invasive water plants like
hydrilla, which now clog countless springs, rivers and lakes.

The problem is compounded when nutrient-poisoned waters are used as
drinking water sources. Disinfectants like chlorine and chloramine can react
with the dissolved organic compounds, contaminating drinking water with
harmful chemical byproducts.

Exposure to these blue-green algae toxins -- when people drink the water,
touch it, or inhale vapors from it -- can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation,
allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, serious illness, and even death. In
June 2008, a water treatment plant serving 30,000 Florida residents was shut
down after a toxic blue-green algae bloom on the Caloosahatchee River
threatened the plant's water supply.

Florida and most other states have only vague limits regulating nutrient
pollution. Under the August agreement, the U.S. EPA agreed to begin the
process of imposing quantifiable -- and enforceable -- water quality standards
to tackle nutrient pollution.

"The federal government recognizes the urgency of cleaning up this pollution,"
Guest said. "But Charlie Bronson and the polluters wants to take us
backwards. The public won't stand for it."

The settlement with EPA came 13 months after five environmental groups filed
suit to compel the federal government to set strict limits on nutrient
poisoning in public waters.

The public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the suit in the Northern District
of Florida on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of
Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St.
John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club in July 2008.

Federal District Judge Robert Hinkle will hear arguments in the case on Nov.
16, at the federal courthouse in Tallahassee.

David Guest, Earthjustice, (850) 681-0031

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