Governor Scott cancels $18 million contract with health agency

Feb 18, 2011

The following article was posted to The Florida Current on February 18, 2011:

Scott cancels $18 million contract with health agency

By Gary Fineout

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming held introductory meetings with state and local officials in Tallahassee amid concerns about new federal water quality standards.

Those proposed federal limits on nitrogen and phosphorus face objections from agriculture and industry groups and wastewater and stormwater utilities. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard told a Senate panel last week that he’d like to tout Florida’s existing pollution reduction program with the EPA.

Vinyard wasn’t available after his meeting on Friday with Fleming, administrator in EPA’s Atlanta regional office. Fleming said the numeric nutrient criteria was just one of several issues discussed in her meeting with Vinyard. 

She was in Tallahassee to sign agreements with Florida A&M University on green initiatives. She also met with Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who is past president of the Florida League of Cities. Marks declined to name the issues raised in his meeting with Fleming because he said they were not discussed in detail.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are suing the agency in federal court to block the implementation of the new federal water quality standards.

Opposition groups say the standards will cost the state billions of dollars when implementation begins in 2012. Asked by a reporter to respond to the critics, Fleming said the standards are needed to address decreasing property values from harmful algal blooms.

“What we proposed was a predictable way to set a minimum standard to address that problem — do it in a way that is cost-effective,” Fleming said. “We think that certainly being able to make some investments on the front end as opposed to paying costly cleanup costs on the back-end is certainly something we want.” 

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney proposed language to block federal funding within the federal continuing resolution from being used to administer the new EPA standards. That move earned criticism from Environment Florida and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

“We are stunned that he would file legislation to prevent clean up of his own district’s rivers and streams,” said Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine. “Fundamentally, his message to the waterways is ‘Drop Dead.'”

But a coalition of more than 50 trade groups, companies and associations including the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties sent a letter to Rooney on Thursday thanking him for filing the amendment.

“We all share a common goal of ensuring the availability of clean water and recognize the importance that it plays in Florida’s economy,” the letter said. “However, we remain strongly opposed to using unsound science to establish limits that fail to show appreciable and attainable environmental benefits and lack a true economic analysis.”

HB 239 and SB 1090 in the Florida Legislature would prohibit DEP and the state’s water management districts from implementing the new federal standards.