The Nation: Clean Water Act: Who’s in Charge?

Panel Debates Implementation of Clean Water Act in Florida

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The objectives of the Clean Water Act of 1972 are simple – to regulate the level of pollutants in the water and to ensure that it is safe for human use and consumption.

It’s implementation, however, has become a thorny issue.

A group of experts at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami discussed how the implementation of Clean Water Act by the Environmental Protection Agency in Florida led to a lawsuit by the state against the George W. Bush administration.

The main pollutant in Florida’s waters is nutrients that flow of farmlands and cause large algal blooms.

“If your dog drinks out of it, it’ll kill it,” said David Guest, managing attorney in the Florida office of Earthjustice.

When Florida failed to implement a program to corral the issue in a timely manner, the EPA stepped in.

“We were encouraged by some of the progress we were seeing,” said Robert Sussman, senior policy counsel to the administrator of EPA. “But if progress is not sufficient, we have a responsibility to act and we will step in.”

Drew Bartlett

The current lawsuit accuses the agency of setting harsh standards and of trampling over Florida’s right to police within its own borders.  Several groups representing farmers have joined the suit alongside Florida.

“It’s difficult to have a near pristine standard and produce food,” said Don Parrish, senior director of Regulatory Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “You can only do so much. [The regulations] are not only going to drive the cost of production up but also drop land out of production.”

Drew Bartlett, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, admits that some of Florida’s water bodies are “impaired.”

However, he feels that the EPA’s actions did not “avoid unnecessary costs” and did not take into consideration local issues.

“It depends on how the numbers are applied,” he said.

Parrish accused the EPA of wielding a “hammer in velvet gloves,” but Sussman held firm on the legitimacy of the agency’s actions.

“We are not insensitive to economics considerations and we are certainly not insensitive to political ones,” he said. “Having said that, the goal of the act is clear.”

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