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Nancy Smith

My Two Firsts: Loving a Lawsuit and Praising Bill McCollum

December 7, 2010 - 6:00pm

Taking it to the EPA. Now thats what I call leadership.

Leadership isnt a word I ever thought Id apply to Bill McCollum and mean it, but I have and, at least on this occasion, I do.

If ever a lame duck found a way to get up, get better and sprint to the finish line, its Floridas outgoing attorney general. McCollum led the charge in the lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Environmental Protection Agency over its proposed water standards.

Not that it was all McCollums doing. Were talking about a lawsuit here festooned with power players to lend it clout: Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi, incoming and outgoing Agriculture Commissioners Adam Putnam and Charles Bronson, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney and Sen. George LeMieux.

Many, many more knowledgeable people are with this lawsuit in spirit. Speaker of the House Dean Cannon has said he's itching for the fight. So has Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

A member of Gov.-elect Rick Scott's regulatory/environment/water transition team, Barbara Miedema, told me, "There's no question, the EPA's new rules are overreaching. They aren't science-based and they're fundamentally flawed."

In defending the lawsuit, McCollum said, "The EPA numeric nutrient rule and its proposed criteria are not based on scientifically sound methodology, and were adopted in an arbitrary and capricious manner just to settle a lawsuit."

Miedema, who is also vice president for public affairs at the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, went further, citing several examples of the problems with EPA's standards, from treating flowing, natural streams the same as man-made cement-trenched canals, to ignoring that rivers like the Suwannee carry a host of pollutants from Georgia, where water quality is out of Florida's control.

These are not people who oppose clean water. They oppose rules unfairly applied to Florida and mandated for the wrong reason, rules that are scientifically meaningless and, above all, fiscally irresponsible.

Four different studies have projected that imposing the rules starting next August will cost $1.6 billion a year in order to retool and build the infrastructure for cities and towns and counties all across Florida to comply. Never mind the 14,500 jobs the rules could destroy.

And here is the crux of the situation:

Floridas financial health is at a crossroads right now. The new governor will come into a $3.5 billion deficit, and an 11.9 percent unemployment rate 1.9 percent higher than the national average. He has to deliver on promises he's already made to create jobs and build a stronger economy for Florida. What he doesn't need is a federal bureaucracy to come along and double, triple, quadruple the fiscal crisis the state already faces.

All over the country states are in real trouble, desperate trouble -- California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, even Hawaii. Financial analysts fear that even when the economy recovers, the shortfalls will not disappear because states like these are carrying so much debt -- a lot of it off the books, hidden from view -- and they could be overwhelmed. Next step, a debt crisis like Europe's.

So, I find myself in a very odd position.

I have never -- not even once -- found occasion to favor one part of government suing another part. I used to see it frequently 10 to15 years ago in Martin County -- the county suing the city of Stuart, for example. To me, it was like I was being asked to chew off my own leg. My tax dollars were paying both sides to beat each other up. Who profited besides lawyers? Neither side ever did.

But this is different. The EPA is different. The EPA is like an alien cloud darkening the sky. It's an intimidation. An attitude closing in. It's the kind of government you call but can never reach a human voice.

The EPA is part of our government. But it's not a part we have any direct control over. Those Martin County commissioners who filed 32 lawsuits in four years? They were chucked out via the ballot box. By the people. As I've said before, we can't vote out the Environmental Protection Agency.

So, for the first time -- and I admit, I feel a little bit like Thelma and Louise probably did just before they went off the cliff -- I find myself siding with Wild Bill McCollum and rooting for a big, bad, winning, in-your-face-EPA Florida lawsuit.

Reach Nancy Smith at nancybutlersmith@yahoo.com, or at (850) 727-0859.

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