Tampa is latest stop in water regulation fight
TAMPA - The long-running dispute between the state and federal governments over regulating Florida's waterways pulled into Tampa on Thursday, attracting about 100 protesters wearing neon-green T-shirts with the message, "Ask me about slime." "I'm tired of seeing green slime outbreaks on the St. Johns," said Lisa Rinaman, with the St. Johns Riverkeeper group, "and having to explain to my boys why we have fish kills every summer. "Florida waters bring magic to the state," she said, "and we can't let that magic die on our watch." After a few short speeches and a couple of chants deriding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the throng filed into a hearing room where public comments about rules to limit pollution were being taken. The Environmental Protection Agency held the first of two public meetings Thursday at the Tampa City Center. The second hearing is scheduled from 9 a.m. until noon today at the downtown Tampa location on Franklin Street just south of Jackson Street.The complicated dispute centers on whether the state or the federal government knows best about enforcing water-quality restrictions in Florida. Many environmental groups complain the state is too beholden to local business interests to effectively regulate pollution; state officials say the federal government is overstepping its bounds. Demonstrators represented a wide variety of environmental protection groups, including the Sierra Club, the Native Plant Society, the Silver Springs Alliance, a couple of Occupy movements and Citizens for Sanity. The EPA's proposals set numerical limits on nutrients that come from such sources as fertilizer, animal waste and sewage effluent. The nutrients run off into streams and rivers and feed the algae blooms that can kill fish and make people sick. Off to the side was Winston Borkowski, a Tallahassee attorney who said he represents mining concerns and utilities. "I totally disagree" with what the green-shirted contingent was saying, he said. The restrictions of the EPA and the state are very similar, he said, and are stringent enough to eventually result in clean rivers and lakes, canals and bays. The EPA in 1998 told the state to start taking measures to improve water quality in all of the state's waterways, but it took an Earthjustice lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and other environmental protection groups to get the federal government to follow up. Six weeks ago, the EPA said it had approved the state's less restrictive rules for 15 percent of the state's 100,000 miles of waterways, while stricter federal rules would apply to the remaining 85 percent. The state has chafed at the federal rules, saying imposing the harsher regulations would cost taxpayers millions. Florida taxpayers already spend more than $1 billion a year in fees and taxes that feed a variety of state agencies that oversee water regulations. That's why the state spent more than a decade fending off the EPA's requirements. The state has been using its own standards that do not list a limit on numeric nutrient criteria, and environmental groups argue that those standards are too weak to halt nutrient pollution. "We do not like the state's rule imposed over 15 percent of the state's waters," said Chris Costello with the Sierra Club. "It's too weak." Drew Bartlett, director of the DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, contested that assertion. "The environmentalists are disappointed that there are nutrient-impaired waters and we share that disappointment." Cleanup under both rules will take time, he said. "We all would like to see it happen quicker," he said. "That's the challenge."
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