Politics & Government

EPA hears from Florida utilities, farmers and ranchers over water rules

Citrus growers, cattle ranchers, sugar farmers and utility operators told federal environmental regulators Thursday that they are all for keeping rivers and lakes clean, but they don't want to go broke doing it.

They warned that could be the ripple effect from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's unprecedented decision to step in and tighten Florida's pollution laws. The EPA wants to set hard caps on two nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, largely responsible for triggering algae blooms that have fouled waters from the St. Johns River to Florida Bay.

More than 200 people packed a public hearing in West Palm Beach, the last of three the EPA scheduled around the state. Most speakers, aside from a handful of environmentalists, urged the agency to go back to the drawing board on rules they branded as flawed and costly.

Nicholas Albergo, president of a Tampa-based engineering firm with a long list of agricultural, utility and other clients, argued the proposed standards were inflexible, rife with "technical black holes" and would "create major hardships for virtually every sector of Florida's economy, as well as local governments."

He urged three top EPA officials not to rush to adopt the rules, which are scheduled to be finalized in October. "I guess my message is, slow down," he said.

Critics -- backed by a regiment of attorneys -- raised a long list of concerns, some of which they called unintended consequences of the complex regulations.

Farmers said cutting fertilizer use would reduce yields and raise crops prices. Utilities want South Florida's canal system removed from protection, and warned the rules would undermine state efforts to recycle waste water.

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