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Nancy Smith

Florida Must Stop Unfunded Mandate Bully-Boy, EPA

November 17, 2010 - 6:00pm

Take no comfort in the Environmental Protection Agencys latest gift. Florida doesnt need another 15 months to comply with a monumentally bad decision, it needs to fight back.

On Monday, when the federal EPA announced it would give the state until August 2011 to impose new numeric nutrient standards for freshwater lakes, streams and rivers, it was only playing for time.

Time for outraged citizens whove done the math to cool off and move on to some other cause.

Time for grandstanding politicians to find that quiet midway point between elections.

Time for a struggling economy to get back on its feet so Floridians wont be so apt to panic over a bill estimated not in the tens of millions, but in the tens of billions.

Folks, what the EPA has given us here is the mother and father and crazy uncle of all unfunded mandates.

In 2008 a group called Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of five environmental groups: Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John's Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club. These groups claimed that in Florida anyway, the EPA hasnt enforced its own standards in the Clean Water Act.

To settle the suit, the agency entered into a legally binding agreement with these groups, working out a plan for stricter limits for phosphorus and nitrogen in Floridas waterways. Trouble is, the limits set and timeline to reach them have little scientific foundation. Even today, the EPA cant justify them.

The EPA, incidentally, isn't enforcing those standards in any of the other 49 states. Only in Florida. Only in a state recognized nationally for promoting water quality.

What's more, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the University of Florida studied the EPAs plan. They claim it could cost Florida up to $1.6 billion a year never mind the 14,500 jobs it could destroy and heres where the unfunded mandate part comes in: This is all money that will have to be collected from taxpayers or diverted from more useful purposes.

Florida has to find that money, not the federal government.

That means you. You have to find that money. A survey of nine utilities last summer estimated that, in order to pay for the needed municipal improvements, a households sewer rates would jump $62 a month, or more than $700 annually.

Even for the EPA, the most enthusiastic supporter of unfunded mandates among hundreds of intrusive federal agencies out there, these new water regulations are spectacularly over the top.

Think about it.

Folks have spent a lot of months driving the skids under Nancy Pelosi or trying. From the left, from the right, shes taken her share of heat. But aren't we going after the wrong bad guy? Nancy Pelosi and all the politicians we want to put out of office are elected. Their constituents can decide their fate. They can throw the bums out. The EPA, on the other hand, is autonomous. It doesnt run for office, it isnt elected, it can't be voted back to oblivion. It truly is the bully on the block, the kid who calls the shots for the rest of the neighborhood.

Certainly it is the essence of a national government to make laws that inconvenience someone, somewhere, and inconvenience almost always costs money. That's completely understandable. But the EPA's hit on Florida goes above and beyond inconvenience and the kind of pricetag you can excuse away.

The EPA -- entering into a "deal" as it has, to settle a lawsuit in the middle of a recession -- can do irreparable harm to Florida.

Every business leader, virtually every public officeholder in the state and in Congress -- including the new governor -- has spoken up at least to delay implementation of the EPA's un-science. They are to be commended.

But it's time to go further. Florida has a good lawyer, newly elected, well heeled for the fight. Let's get her involved.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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