TALLAHASSEE, Florida, November 17, 2009 (ENS) – In a decision with national relevance, a federal judge in Tallahassee Monday approved a consent decree that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set legal limits on excess nutrients that trigger harmful algae blooms in Florida waters.
The EPA agreed to establish numeric water quality criteria for Florida’ lakes and flowing waters by January 14, 2010. The agency has until January 14, 2011, to establish numeric water quality criteria for Florida’s coastal and estuarine waters. The consent decree allows the state to set numeric criteria before these dates as long as they are approved by the EPA.
This green slime on Christopher Point Creek, a St. Johns River tributary, is an algae bloom fueled by excess nutrients. (Photo by Chris Williams courtesy GreenWater Laboratories/CyanoLab)
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought by five environmental groups seeking to compel the federal government to set water quality standards for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in public waters.
In July 2008, the public interest law firm Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, St. John’s Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club.
The suit challenged an unacceptable decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for nutrient pollution.
Speaking from the bench Monday after hearing oral arguments in the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said the delay was a matter of serious concern.
In August, the U.S. EPA signed a consent decree, agreeing to set legal limits for nutrients in Florida waters.
But Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services filed a motion to intervene in the case on the polluters’ side.
In his approval of the consent decree, Judge Hinkle rejected the arguments made by polluters who sought to delay cleanup and get out of complying with the Clean Water Act. Continue reading