WEST PALM BEACH
If clean water's your goal, it's not a good sign that your state's environmental efforts are being applauded by The Fertilizer Institute.
Fertilizer is to clean waterways as cigarette smoke is to clean lungs.
The fluorescent green slime that was the product of a massive toxic algae bloom that fouled the St. Lucie and Indian Rivers last summer was a result of the pumping of excess rainwater tainted with fertilizer and other pollutants to the ocean.
It's why the St. Lucie County commission voted unanimously last month to ban the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen or phosphorous from June through September.
But on that same month, the Fertilizer Institute was praising Florida's state government for successfully waging a legal fight to weaken the previously negotiated water standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The Fertilizer Institute praised Florida for "its tireless work to craft strong, realistic and achievable nutrient criteria using a science-based approach that will have a positive impact on Florida's waters."
Hint: If the people who are in business of selling clean-water poison are patting you on the back for your clean-water efforts, it's not good news for clean water.
And it didn't take long for Florida to return the compliment.
Earlier this month, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi gave the state's endorsement to The Fertilizer Institute's cause to limit the EPA's ability to enforce clean water standards on the Chesapeake Bay, a sprawling water system that includes more than 150 rivers and streams spanning 200 miles and six states.
None of them are even remotely close to Florida. So why is the Florida attorney general trying to hamper the cleanup efforts of the largest estuary on the East Coast?
"By joining the brief, I sought to defend Florida's right to continue protecting its own environment without unnecessary federal intervention," Bondi wrote.
Unnecessary? If the waters of six states feed into one body of water, what good does it do if, say, two states maintain strict water pollution standards, but the rest don't?
The Clean Water Act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, was designed for this sort of situation. It gives the EPA the authority to limit the "discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters of the U.S."
The Clean Water Act, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by George H.W. Bush, are grand pieces of federal regulation that are only as good as their enforcement.
Compliance with the ADA is largely policed by attorneys. It's the threat of their civil lawsuits that spur compliance.
As for clean water, it's largely enforced by environmental groups who use lawsuits to remind the EPA to live up to its duties spelled out in the Clean Water Act.
The idea that states, and not the federal government, ought to be the guardian of pollution standards in navigable waters is a notion that gets argued whenever the EPA comes up with a clean water plan.
Bondi calls it "EPA overreach."
But I'm guessing that the people in Martin and St. Lucie County who woke up one day last summer to find themselves living next to sewer-front property were more worried about "Florida under-reach."
Since 2009, the state of Florida has been trying to wiggle out of a court-negotiated consent decree it made with the EPA after environmentalists sued the federal agency for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act pollution controls on Florida' s waterways. And the wiggle was successful last month.
This is all good news if you're trying to sell more fertilizer.
But it's also why local governments such as St. Lucie County, Martin County, Indian River County, Brevard County, Manatee County and many of the municipalities within those counties have legislated their own summer fertilizing bans while the state government fights to keep the federal government from doing its job.
Frank Cerabino, writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.