MIAMI Florida filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to block new water pollution controls in the recession-hit state.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Pensacola, accuses the EPA of trampling over the state's rights while seeking to impose rules that would cost taxpayers and local agricultural business too much.
EPA standards, which were finalized for Florida last month, set specific numerical limits on nutrient pollution levels allowed in lakes, rivers, streams and springs in a state which relies heavily on tourists who enjoy its waterways and world-famous Everglades wildlife refuge.
Nutrient pollution is caused by phosphorous and nitrogen contamination from excess fertilizer, storm water and wastewater that flows off land into waterways. The EPA estimates nearly 2,000 miles of Florida's rivers and streams, as well as numerous lakes and estuaries, are affected.
Months of debate in public hearings preceded the finalization of the standards, which the lawsuit on Tuesday described as "arbitrary and capricious" and based on flawed methodology.
"Throughout this rulemaking process, EPA has failed to disclose the rulemaking's technical basis, regulatory implications, and economic impacts," the lawsuit said.
"EPA was not forthcoming with data, methods, analyses, or clear explanations of rule provisions," it added.
In a statement announcing the suit, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said the costs of implementing the standards were of particular concern to Florida, which is struggling with record-high unemployment and home foreclosure rates.
The statement did not specifically mention Florida's $9 billion citrus industry, but it has been a leading critic of the EPA's nutrient pollution abatement program.
"Studies produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, as well as two independent studies all show that the impact to Florida's economy will be in the billions," the statement from the attorney general's office said.
"The EPA's anticipated cost is the outlier, projecting a cost closer to $200 million," it added.
"CLEAN, SAFE WATERS"
In announcing the finalized measures last month, EPA Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes-Fleming said the agency had sought to reconcile competing interests, but there was strong public support for cleaning up Florida's water and waterways.
"What we heard over and over in these public hearings is that the people of Florida know that clean, safe waters are essential to their health and Florida's economic growth," Keyes-Fleming said.
The EPA has said it would work closely with the state and interested parties on implementation of the new anti-pollution standards.
Explaining they would be flexible, "common sense" and site-specific, Keyes-Fleming said the rules would help protect hotels and tourist attractions that faced lost revenue through pollution making waterways too foul for swimming or fishing.
Florida's $60 billion-a-year tourism industry is its economic lifeblood and largest industry, with more than 80 million visitors a year bringing in 21 percent of all state sales taxes and employing nearly 1 million Floridians.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Anthony Boadle)