Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: EPA should reject Florida's new water standards

A state panel approved new water quality standards this week that defy both conventional science and common sense. The Environmental Regulation Commission voted to increase the amount of some cancer-causing chemicals that polluters can dump into Florida's waterways under an accelerated process that kept important voices out of the debate. Fortunately, the change cannot take effect without the federal Environmental Protection Agency's approval. The EPA should reject it, and the state should come up with standards that protect Florida's environment and safeguard human health.

The Environmental Regulatory Commission, appointed by the governor, approved a policy overhaul that increases Florida's list of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 and raises the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens. It also reduces the allowed limits on 13 currently regulated chemicals, two of which are considered carcinogens. Department of Environmental Protection officials defend the illogical change — reducing limits on some cancer-causing agents while increasing others — as a scientifically based "update." But the public has plenty of reasons to distrust that explanation.

For one, the DEP developed the new standards with a method that no other state uses. The DEP says its "probabilistic analysis" is Florida-specific, accounting for toxins that can be passed on to humans who eat locally caught seafood. But environmentalists say the state underestimated seafood consumption, meaning the new standards would actually increase exposure to cancer risk for many.

Also concerning: Some industries responsible for discharging the toxic chemicals, including dry cleaners, paper mills, agriculture and oil and gas companies, support the new standards while environmentalists oppose them. In fact, critics wonder if the specific change to the substance benzene isn't a crack in the door to allow fracking in Florida.

The DEP initially proposed raising the limit for benzene, a byproduct of fracking, from 1.18 parts per billion to 3 parts per billion. After public outcry, the agency reduced the level to 2 parts per billion. So much for a science-based process.

Even if the DEP could find scientific backup for every decimal point, the way the new rule was approved undermines the entire effort. With no reason offered, the Environmental Regulation Commission's vote was moved up from September, and it went forward despite two vacancies on the seven-member commission. The slot for a representative from the environmental community and the one representing local government have been left vacant by Gov. Rick Scott. The commission passed the new rule on a 3-2 vote. Would the measure have failed 4-3 if those constituencies had their say? The public will never know.

State regulators are entrusted with keeping Florida's water clean and safe, and the system appears to have been rigged in favor of the polluters. The standards approved this week were described by one commissioner who voted for them as "more good than harm." That's not good enough for Florida, and the EPA needs to hammer home that message by rejecting the changes.

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Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Editorial: Progress on Tampa Bay graduation rates

Tampa Bay’s four school districts all reached a significant milestone last school year: achieving graduation rates over 80 percent. It’s believed to be the first time Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties all surpassed that threshold, a...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Take deal; build wall

President Donald Trump says he is optimistic a deal can be struck to shield "Dreamers," the young undocumented immigrants whose lives he put in jeopardy by stripping them of work permits and deportation protection, beginning March 5. His price, and t...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/11/18