The U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida, has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency-imposed numeric nutrient criteria for Florida streams and unimpaired lakes are unlawful because they are arbitrary and have no scientific basis. This case was the result of the EPA imposing water quality rules on Florida.
"They essentially came in and took the authority away from the state to set their own water quality standards and actually did it for them," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley Lyon. "They did all of this while the state of Florida was actually in the process of developing their own revised standards, which the EPA had approved their plan to do so. But after settling a lawsuit with environmentalists EPA decided they would impose their own standards."
Last April NCBA and the Florida Cattlemen's Association challenged the rules on the basis that EPA did not follow proper procedure, did not make a determination that Florida standards were inappropriate, and they did not rely on the best available science.
The court invalidated the criteria for streams but did uphold some of EPA's standards for springs and lakes.
"We were encouraged by his decision to invalidate that portion of the rule," Lyon said. "We were also disappointed that he upheld the administrator's authority to come in there and usurp the state's rights as she did."
Lyon says that the decision in this case sets some precedents that may be important for other states.
"That stream decision really set a precedent that is positive that the EPA cannot just use pseudoscience or bad science in this case to base a rule on," Lyon said. "They actually have to have the science to base the standard upon. So for the rest of the country it set the precedent that the agency has to follow the science and has to have the science behind it before it can regulate like this."
However, Lyon says that the portions that were upheld open the door in other areas for lawsuits by other environmentalist groups and EPA could set standards in those states.
Another piece to the puzzle is that Florida has completed its own water quality standards that have been ratified by the state legislature. It now must be approved by EPA.
"The administrator has said if the agency approves that rule they will pull all their federal criteria from the state," Lyon said. "We hope the ruling will go a long way in encouraging the administrator to approve Florida's rule and pull the rest of the federal criteria from the state of Florida."