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Congressman hones in on water pollution controversy

The state, and not the federal government, should decide Florida's water quality standards, Rep. Steve Southerland said at a press conference Monday.

He plans to file a bill Tuesday to compel the federal Environmental Protection Agency to sign off on the state's proposed water pollution standards, he said.

Environmental groups vehemently criticize the Department of Environmental Protection's proposal as weak and unenforceable.

But other stakeholders, such as the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Electric Cooperative Associations, and the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association say the state standards strike a balance that would save thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

"Rules like the one the EPA put forward would have a terrible effect on our economy," said Southerland, winged by Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson and Associated Industries of Florida President Tom Feeney.

The bill, which Southerland said he will file tomorrow, would also require the EPA to consider the economic impact on job creation, small businesses, agriculture, municipalities and consumers before developing water quality standards.

At issue are contaminants from sewage, fertilizer and manure that wash into the water and cause excess nitrogen and phosphorous, known as nutrients. The pollutants can yield toxic algae blooms that kill wildlife and poison drinking water.

The federal rule, set to be implemented in June, would apply uniform standards across water bodies. The state proposal would require each water body be assigned an individual "threshold" of acceptable pollutant levels.

Southerland hones in on the issue as he fights to stay in office in the face of recently redrawn Congressional maps that put him in a less Republican-friendly district.

Wilson said that the EPA went "one step too far" and John Hoblick, president of Florida Farm Bureau, said the farming industry is just "one piece of bad legislation away from putting Florida out of business."

The EPA standards apply only to Florida, and are the result of a settlement the agency struck with environmental groups. The Florida Attorney General's Office sued the federal government for imposing standards without getting input from the state.

The Florida Legislature is poised to approve the DEP standards and clear the path for the EPA's approval.

No environmentalists spoke at the conference, but one audience member asked Southerland how the change would impact wildlife.

"You talk about wildlife, but the EPA sometimes sets standards that aren't compatible with human life, and we have to strike a balance," he said.