Update: Judge Approves Settlement on Numeric Nutrient Criteria for Florida

by Yee Huang

November 18, 2009

A few months ago, I wrote about a landmark agreement by the EPA to set numeric, statewide nutrient pollution limits  -- the first of its kind in the United States. Florida, like most states, has qualitative nutrient pollution limits, which are written in terms such as, “in no case shall nutrient concentrations of body of water be altered so as to cause an imbalance in natural populations of flora or fauna.” Terms like this are difficult to measure objectively and consistently, endangering water bodies across the country and underlying the importance of this agreement by the EPA.

Back in August, the EPA had agreed to the settlement, but it still required approval by a judge. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle approved the agreement, dismissing arguments by opponents -- agriculture and paper interests, local governments, and even the state Attorney General and Agricultural Commissioner -- that the EPA was acting too hastily, without a scientific basis, and without consideration of the economic situation. Judge Hinkle replied, "What you want me to do (is say that) even if Florida's regulation is inadequate, let it go, not do what the act requires because economic times are hard and (water quality) is worse somewhere else? That would be a lawless decision.” He noted that, pursuant to an EPA determination in 1998 that all states are required to develop numeric standards for nutrient pollution, the state already had a grace period of eleven years to develop the scientific basis for numeric standards.

Opponents say they are still deciding whether or not to appeal Judge Hinkle’s ruling, which won’t become final until he issues a written opinion. In the meantime, this judgment represents a victory for clean water not only in Florida but also across the United States.

See more on the development from Earthjustice.

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