U.S. Rep. John Mica, the Winter Park Republican whose district hugs the east coast of Florida and stretches from near Jacksonville to the Orlando area, should appreciate the benefits of clean water. Largely nestled between the St. Johns River and the beaches of the Atlantic, Mica's district includes or abuts waterways that help drive Florida's economy. Yet Mica is sponsoring legislation scheduled for a House vote today to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to enforce the Clean Water Act. This is not in Florida's best interest, and Tampa Bay Republicans such as Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Richard Nugent and C.W. Bill Young should not put partisanship above clean water.
One of the things America has done well over the last 40 years is to clean its waterways of industrial and human pollution. Rivers that once caught fire and lakes that once were declared dead are now recreation areas and fishing havens. The reason: the Clean Water Act, which in 1972 handed the EPA the responsibility to regulate water pollution when states refused to do it. But HB 2018, which Mica sponsored as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with ranking member Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., would take America back to the days when rules differed wildly state by state and local politicians could put the financial interests of their favored industries above water quality and public health.
The legislation would give states the final say on rules regarding water, wetlands and mountaintop-removal mining. No matter how environmentally damaging, the EPA could no longer veto projects that had been okayed by the Army Corps of Engineers. And the agency would be barred from revising water-quality standards based on new scientific and health data without the state's agreement.
Mica and Rahall have transparent motives: to interfere with the heightened environmental protection activities of the Obama administration. In Rahall's case it's tougher reviews on mountaintop-removal mining. For Mica it's the EPA's efforts to get Florida to finally address the state's significant nutrient pollution problem, which he characterized as a "regulatory jihad." Mica should stop complaining about the cost of cleanup, since he's already gotten his way. The EPA has temporarily backed off new rules and given the state one more chance to write its own.
The bill's supporters say this is about shoring up state authority and protecting jobs. But nothing would be more job killing to Florida than an environmental reversal of fortunes, as the state was reminded by the BP oil spill last summer. To leave water quality and public health regulation in the hands of Florida lawmakers and local officials who have famously done the bidding of all sorts of polluting industries — including industrial farms, oil companies, power companies, paper mills and phosphate mines — is, to be blunt, crazy. Mica is on his partisan crusade to turn back the clock on water quality, but other Florida House members should know better.