The Florida Cattlemen’s Association (FCA) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) on April 28, 2011, challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) determination letter and final rule establishing numeric nutrient criteria (NNC) for Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams and springs. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, resulted in a mixed ruling on Feb. 18, 2012.
Judge Robert L. Hinkle invalidated the criteria for streams as well as certain aspects of the downstream protection values for lakes ruling them “arbitrary and capricious.” This action ultimately prevents EPA from implementing its proposed criteria for these water bodies in the state of Florida. While the Court upheld several of EPA’s arguments, FCA and NCBA are encouraged by the outcome.
“We hope the recent ruling prompts EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to pullback from implementing federal nutrient criteria in Florida and properly return the authority back to the state where it belongs. It is clear that EPA’s heavy hand will have irreparable harm on Florida agricultural producers if the agency’s actions are not stopped. Just as importantly, EPA must be stopped from applying this flawed model to other watersheds across the country,” said NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley Lyon. “EPA’s science be damned approach should be stopped. Criteria must be based on science. EPA’s approach is not based on science and was rightly invalidated.”
According to Jim Handley, FCA executive vice president, the court’s ruling stating that EPA’s reference method used to derive the NNC is arbitrary and capricious should force EPA to rightfully return the issue to Florida.
“EPA needs to scratch this rule. It isn’t good for Florida. It isn’t good for America. We are not alone in our opposition to the NNC rule. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, as well as their predecessors, have challenged the rule on behalf of Floridians. Our elected leaders have been outspoken against this rule. Furthermore, Florida’s own Department of Environmental Protection asked EPA to rescind this rule,” said Handley. “EPA is overreaching with this mandate and their methodology is flawed as evidenced by this ruling. EPA has little to no regard for farmers and ranchers and obviously no respect for congressional intent. In light of the court’s ruling, Administrator Jackson should remove the federal criteria and allow the state to move forward with its own rule.”
Handley said EPA’s plan is not just an attack on the cattle industry or rural America. He said the NNC rule will cause substantial financial damage to an already struggling economy. This rule is estimated by EPA to cost Florida approximately $113 million in implementation costs and roughly $35 million annually. However, other experts predict this rule carries a much heftier price tag. A study conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida and Soil and Water Engineering Technology, Inc., concluded that the economic impact could easily reach $3.1 billion in implementation costs and annual costs could top $974 million. The study also predicts 15,000 agricultural jobs will be lost.