State and federal environmental regulators announced Friday that they have agreed to new rules intended to reduce pollution fouling waters and triggering fish kills across the state.
After years of negotiations, lawsuits and pressure from environmental groups, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said they have agreed to new limits on nitrogen and phosphorus, two nutrients blamed for much of the state's worst water quality problems.
DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. hailed the agreement as a significant step that would clean up waterways.
"We can now move forward to implementing nutrient reduction criteria, rather than delaying environmental improvements due to endless litigation," he said in a statement. "We all should recognize the dedication of EPA and Department scientists to protecting our waterways."
Environmentalists called the rules, which are supposed to set numeric limits on fertilizer, cow manure and other agricultural and industrial pollutants, too lax. Business and agricultural groups had campaigned against stricter standards initially proposed by the EPA, saying they would cost farmers, businesses and governments hundreds of millions or more.
David Guest, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that had sued the EPA over a decadelong delay in imposing standards, said the "flawed" plan will still face federal court review.
"We have record numbers of dead manatees washing up on southwest Florida right now, in the prime of our tourist season," Guest said in a statement. "This is an absolute sell-out. This bogus plan gives deep-pocketed polluters even more loopholes. And what do we, the public, get? More gross, slimy algae in the water."
The state will now move forward with a rule-making process that could take until the end of 2014 to cover all inland and coastal waters.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio issued a statement praising the deal, calling it important for the economy that state agencies rather than Washington "bureaucrats" control pollution rules.
"Keeping the EPA out of Florida on this effort is a significant win for job creators across the state," he said in a statement. "It will better ensure that the proper balance can be struck between protecting our water and making sure over-regulation doesn't drive businesses and jobs out of Florida."