* EPA proposal seen costing Florida agriculture billions
* Agency urged to set “reasonable” goals on nutrients
* EPA warns against “false choice” of health vs economy
By Tom Brown
MIAMI, April 23 (Reuters) - Plans by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Florida’s waterways set unattainable goals and would saddle the state’s farm industry with billions of dollars of costs it cannot afford, Florida citrus growers said on Friday.
“There is no way Florida agriculture, including the $9 billion citrus industry, can survive if the EPA actually follows through with their proposal,” said Michael Sparks, head of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s main citrus growers association.
“Of course we all want clean water, it is essential to our livelihood in agriculture, but we need to set reasonable goals,” Sparks said in a statement.
New restrictions on the release of phosphorous and nitrogen, also known as “nutrient” pollutants, into Florida’s lakes and waterways could cost between $855 million and $3 billion to implement, the statement said.
It cited a report issued on Thursday by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) that said recurring costs from the EPA restrictions would total between $902 million and $1.6 billion per year, with additional indirect economic impacts to the state of $1.15 billion annually.
The EPA’s proposals, which are open to public comment until the end of this month, are in line with the agency’s January 2009 determination that numeric nutrient standards were needed in Florida to meet requirements of the Clean Water Act.
The state, with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and recreational use of its waterways, suffers from substantial water quality degradation due to nutrient over-enrichment.
The EPA has said the problem is expected to worsen due to population growth and land-use changes.
The FDACS report said the EPA had estimated the annual cost of compliance with the restrictions on nutrient pollutants at about $35 million. But it said that estimate was incomplete, both in terms of the estimated number of agricultural acres affected and the methods used to determine the economic impact.
The EPA did not respond specifically to the question raised by the FDACS about its cost estimates.
But in a statement provided to Reuters, the agency said “clean and safe waters are central to Florida’s prosperity” as well as to people’s health.
“We do not have to make a false choice between our health and the economy. EPA is proposing a cost-effective rule to curb the impacts of nutrient pollution that decimates property values and can cause costly illnesses,” the EPA said.
“We are working closely with Floridians to make sure that these waters are drinkable, fishable and swimmable, which then ensures a future for those industries that want to prosper in Florida.” (Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Marguerita Choy)