Public speaks out on pollution at Tampa meeting
Pollution in Florida's waters topic of EPA public comment hearing in Tampa
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — About 150 protesters, many in neon-green T-shirts protesting slime in Florida's waterways, showed up Thursday at a U.S. Environmental Protection meeting, concerned about nutrient pollution.
The meeting — where federal officials took only written statements from people — was the first of two held this week. The second is on Friday and Web-based meetings are scheduled for Jan. 22-24.
The EPA is accepting comment on proposals that set numerical limits on nutrients that come from such sources as fertilizer, animal waste and sewage effluent, which feed the toxic, slimy algae blooms. They can kill fish and make people sick.
Many of the folks who turned up at Thursday's meeting said that the excess nutrients are fouling beaches, harming wildlife and contaminating drinking water. Environmentalists point to recent events as proof that nutrient pollution is a serious problem, including Sarasota County's removal of 4.5 tons of dead fish from beaches after a red tide bloom and a drinking water plant in Lee County closed because of green slime.
Several environmental groups are urging the federal agency to adopt stricter pollution rules than the state Department of Environmental Protection currently has on the books.
The environmental groups oppose the state's approach as being too weak to stop pollution that's being blamed for algae blooms.
"People love Florida's waters," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "We need the EPA to protect them. The state DEP rules are not sufficient. The political process in Tallahassee is not going to do what needs to be done."
Numerical limits on pollution are expected to strengthen enforcement. Opponents argue that the federal rules would be too expensive to implement and favored the state's approach.
Winston Borkowski, a lawyer who represents phosphate, wastewater and electric utility companies, said Thursday that he wants the EPA to set rules so his clients have some certainty about what they will have to pay in regards to regulation.
"These are the folks that are actually going to be affected by the criteria," he said. "That means spending money. They have to budget to know what the future is to comply with the regulations. One way or the other, we want the state and the EPA to get together so we know what the future is from a regulatory perspective."
The EPA is proposing two federal rules for certain water bodies. EPA officials say they have determined that the state's new method of setting those limits in lakes, springs, steams and estuaries is technically and scientifically sound and more effective than the Florida's existing method.
Putting numerical limits on how much pollution is allowed is expected to strengthen enforcement. Opponents argue that the federal rules would be too expensive to implement and favored the state's approach.
"The EPA came to an agreement with many of the groups here today in litigation that it would enforce the Clean Water Act," said Frank Jackalone of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club. "The question is: 'Who is going to pay for the cleanup? Taxpayers? Homeowners who live on those beautiful water bodies? Is it going to be the wildlife that dies because of that runoff? Who is going to pay the cost?"
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