DEP to drop controversial water pollution regulations and start over 2/9/2018

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DEP to drop controversial water pollution regulations and start over

Florida environmental regulators are withdrawing a set of controversial water pollution standards that ran into strong opposition from local governments and Native American tribes.

Instead, the Department of Environmental Protection will start over and work with those groups to produce new standards, a DEP spokeswoman said.

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“DEP has identified an opportunity to partner with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to gather additional data as we move forward to protect Florida’s water,” agency spokeswoman Lauren Engel said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times .

She said that with their help, the DEP wants to “update the state’s water quality criteria to ensure the department is relying on the latest science.”

The pollution regulations that are being withdrawn marked the first update to the state’s water quality standards in 24 years. But when they were first unveiled in 2016, critics said they would allow polluters to increase the level of toxic chemicals they dump into Florida rivers and lakes. Those most at risk would be children and people who eat a lot of seafood.

The 2016 standards, which were strongly supported by business and manufacturing interests, called for increasing the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals and also raising the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens.

The DEP defended the new standards by saying they were actually stricter than federal requirements, had been specifically crafted for Florida using a new method and had been reviewed by scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Department of Health, four Florida universities and the California Environmental Protection Agency.

The new rules drew legal opposition from Broward County, the city of Miami and Miccosukee and Seminole tribes. The Pulp and Paper Association filed a legal challenge as well.

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Their case was scheduled for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge in April. However, with the DEP withdrawing the rules and starting over, the legal challenge is now moot.

“Since these rules were not yet submitted to the EPA,” Engel said, “Florida’s current water standards remain in place and we will keep fighting to protect our environment and ensure clean water for Florida families.”

She said the agency will soon unveil how it plans to proceed with drawing up new rules.

Linda Young of the Clean Water Network, one of the environmental groups that was most vocal in opposing the 2016 regulations, said she was not sure what might happen next.

“They could just adopt EPA’s recommendations using Florida’s fish-consumption numbers and be done with it,” she said, but predicted that would run afoul of the polluting industries that had supported the 2016 change.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.