EPA holds hearings in Tampa on numeric pollution standards for Florida
Today, the Tampa City Council passed a resolution asking the Hillsborough County Commission to pass a fertilizer ordinance to reduce the amount of nutrients that seep into the countyâs waterways. High levels of nitrogen can cause harmful algae blooms.
A bill moving through the state Legislature would forbid local governments from passing fertilizer ordinances.
Because the state has not done enough to rein in the pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed numeric standards for nutrients in Floridaâs water bodies. Yesterday, the EPA held two meetings in Tampa about the standards.
Phil Compton is the regional representative for the Sierra Club and was at the meetings.
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Well, all over Florida, and all over America, a lot of our waterways, our lakes and rivers, are sick. Theyâre impaired by nutrient pollution. Algae is growing in our lakes, and thatâs being fed by nitrogen and phosphorous that runs off from our fields, from our farms, from cattle, and from our lawns, with residential fertilizer. So back in 1998, the EPA asked all the states to set numeric nutrient criteria. What is that? Setting a number on how much nitrogen and phosphorous you could have in Lake Thonotosassa before you have algae blooms that kill all the fish and create dead zones. Or in the Gulf of Mexico.
- State of Floridaâs been talking about it, thinking about it, studying on it, and they took over a decade to do research. But a lot of people got tired of waiting. And in 2008, the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, a few other groups, asked Earthjustice to file a suit with the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act, which was passed back in 1972. And the EPA that came into, with President Obamaâs administration, Lisa Jackson, agreed with us, and said, âYou know what, state of Florida? Youâve had over ten years to do this. And youâre kind of like a kid whoâs been working on a term paper for months, and itâs due tomorrow, and youâre still on the Internet doing research. You gotta get all that data, and write it down, and put numbers on it, and make a commitment to cleaning up our waters. Because until we have goals that we can all work towards, to clean up our waters, theyâre going to stay sick, the way they are right now.*
Q. So yesterday the EPA came to Tampa, and had a couple of public meetings. Who was there; what was that all about?
*Right. This is part of a series of meetings; they had three in other parts of the state back in February. Tuesday they were down in Fort Myers, and today theyâre in Jacksonville. There were about a hundred people that spoke last night; about two hundred people were there. And two thirds of the people spoke for the EPAâs rules here. A lot of people from cities and counties and the state said, âWell, you know, we were gonna do this,â or, âPlease, itâs gonna cost too much.â And a lot of polluters, a lot of people from agriculture, traditional agriculture, said, âYou know, we canât stay in business if we change what weâre doing.â*
*But there are other people, who are in the business of cleaning up the lakes, who know just how bad the problem is, who said, âActually, this is a huge problem, and the practices that we have right now are really causing a problem.â We can make some simple changes in that. And so, what we heard last night were people saying itâs very important to Floridians to have clean water. If you canât go swimming, if you canât go fishing, we are incurring a huge cost. They say that itâs a tax on Florida to clean up our water. They say we canât afford to do it. But the people that came out in Tampa yesterday and in Fort Myers, said, âYou know what? We canât afford not to clean up our water. Because Florida just isnât a very good place to live, our quality of life isnât very good, if we canât enjoy our lakes and our rivers, and going out on the beach.â*
Q. And how does this tie into the local communities passing fertilizer ordinances?
Itâs a big part of it. One way that we can all help to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorous runoff in whatever body of water our lawn happens to run off intoâthe Hillsborough River, Gulf of Mexico, whatever it isâis to not use nitrogen fertilizer in the rainy season. It rains in Floridaâmost of it in June, July, August, and September. So from Pinellas County down to Naples, we now have ordinances that ask people not to apply nitrogen in the summertime, to use a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer this time of yearâin the spring, and again in the fall after it stops raining so muchâand to take phosphorous out of fertilizer altogether. Because Florida is made out of phosphorous. We dig it up, and we ship it overseas to countries that donât have so much phosphorous naturally in their soil; itâs called phosphate.
So we all agree, on both sides, that yeah, we can take the phosphorous out. Itâs coals to Newcastle to continue to pollute our lakes and our springs, that donât exist anywhere else in the world, with phosphorous that has covered them with algae. But in the saltier waters, nitrogen is the problem. So here in Hillsborough County, Iâm happy to tell you that today, the Tampa City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission to pass a rainy-season ban on applying nitrogen, in the rainy season, here in Hillsborough Countyâthe same thing that Pinellas County did a few months ago; the same thing thatâs been working in Sarasota for the last three years, where the result has been the waterâs getting cleaner.
And you know what? The grass is getting healthierâbecause nitrogen applied in the rainy season actually encourages chinch bugs, and root-rot fungus. And they have found that they have healthier grass, and they have to replace turf a lot less often, and the cost is drastically cut. So itâs a good thing for the water, and itâs a good thing for the grass. And this is one way that people can help government to not raise our taxes to clean up the water, but actually lower our taxes. Because right now we are spending tens of millions of dollars in Tampa, Hillsborough, Pinellas, all over the Bay Area, to clean up our waters, and we just can barely scratch the surface. Because it costs a huge amount to get the nitrogen out of water. The best thing to do is keep it out of water, and this is a big part of it.
Q. And the EPA numeric standards, whatâs the next step for that? How can people get involved?
Well, the EPA is offering the publicâtheyâre in the comment period right now of these standards. They came out in draft form; theyâll go into effect in October. Thereâs been a huge push-back from the State of Florida from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. But for Floridians who think that itâs important to clean up our water, and that we can make some simple adjustments; we can use slow-release fertilizer on our farms the way we can on our lawns, because any nitrogen running off into the water is nitrogen that youâre wasting your money on. We can comment right now to the EPA through April 28th. And theyâll be happy to hear that they have the support of Floridians.
Yesterday, like I said, seventy people from the Tampa Bay areaâfrom down in Sarasota, and Bradenton, and Pinellas County, Polk County, and here in Tampaâall came out. Linda Saul-Sena from Tampa City Council came out and spoke in support of this. And this is something that, you know, if you couldnât make it yesterday, you still have a few days to let the EPA know that clean water for Florida would be a good thing to have. We havenât had it for a long time. I live on a river close to the station where Iâve never been able to swim since Iâve been living there for nineteen years. And boy, wouldnât that be nice? Now, we can get there. And itâd be very easy to do that.