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Rigid Federal Regulations Impose Hefty Burden on Florida Farmers

Monday, 2 April 2012

Florida, a largely agricultural state, depends heavily on its 47,500 commercial farms and 9.25 million acres of farmland to sustain its economy.  Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t seem to have gotten the message.

With the state’s unemployment near 10 percent, the EPA is working on rigid new water management regulations that will impact farmers’ abilities to run their operations.  Known as the “numeric nutrient criteria,” the set of rules would dictate permissible levels of certain compounds in runoff water, notably nitrogen and phosphorus, which occur naturally around agricultural production.

Recognizing the need to safeguard local waters, Florida has already proposed water pollution regulations that reflect state-specific concerns and include public input.  Still the EPA wants to impose its federal model.  In response, last year 48 organizations and businesses wrote EPA Administration Lisa Jackson, urging her to consider the state plan instead of the agency mandate.

Studies estimate the federal proposal would cost upward of $100 million more than the state plan and put a much greater compliance burden on agricultural producers and local communities.  Even the EPA said its criteria could cost the state $236 million per year compared to the $51 to $150 million caused by the state standards.  Both plans promise to safely limit chemical exposure in the regional watersheds.

No one argues that a regulatory plan is necessary to protect local waters.  In fact, that’s why Florida policymakers took the initiative to create a plan tailored for the state.  But the EPA’s insistence on imposing its inflexible requirements without weighing the impact they will have on local communities, particularly agricultural producers, demonstrates its eagerness to regulate for the sake of regulation – especially considering that both the state and federal plans equally protect local watersheds.

By cooperatively working alongside local communities, the EPA has a chance to create more effective regulations that pack a small economic punch.  Let’s hope regulators in Washington use their common sense and stand with Florida’s farmers instead of in their way.