April 28, 2011 / 10:35 PM / 9 years ago

Cattle groups sue to stop water rule in Florida

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two cattle groups filed suit in Florida on Thursday to overturn U.S. water pollution rules that also are challenged by Florida state officials and businesses as ruinously expensive.

The Environmental Protection Agency set numerical limits last fall for nutrient levels in Florida lakes and waterways. It estimates 2,000 miles of rivers and streams are affected by excess fertilizer, stormwater and wastewater runoff.

In a suit in U.S. district court, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association said the EPA usurped state authority by imposing the nutrient limits and did not show the limits will be beneficial.

Steve Strickland, president of the Florida cattle group, said EPA could use the numerical limits “as a template for the rest of the country,” including the upper Mississippi River basin, the heart of U.S. crop and livestock production.

Asked last week if mandatory limits would be set on runoff in the upper Mississippi, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson cited voluntary stewardship work and said she did not see a need “to move directly to a regulatory mechanism.”

Early this year, the American Farm Bureau Federation and its Pennsylvania affiliate filed suit against EPA’s “pollution diet” to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoff in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They said the plan favored cities and gave farmers too little credit for controlling runoff.

Also challenging the EPA rule are the Florida state government, utilities, fertilizer makers and local governments.

While EPA says it would cost $35 million a year to comply with the standards, the cattle groups say annual costs could near $1 billion and eliminate 15,000 agricultural jobs. EPA says there was strong support for clean water during public hearings before it unveiled its rule on Nov 15.

A 2008 lawsuit by the Florida Wildlife Federation resulted in a settlement that required EPA to set specific nutrient standards for Florida by November 2010.

Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid

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