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Fla. Fight With EPA Backdrop to Congressional Debate

By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 14, 2011 -

Pointing to a long-running fight in Florida, the U.S. House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to require tougher water-quality standards.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, was a key sponsor of the measure, which passed 239-184. Mica and other supporters said the EPA has overstepped its authority in Clean Water Act disputes with states.

“EPA has indeed created a regulatory nightmare that affects almost every state in the union,’’ Mica said during a floor debate.

But even before the House vote, the Obama administration signaled the bill likely would be vetoed if it gets to the White House. Also, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who was an outspoken critic, said he does not think the Senate will approve the proposal.

“(The bill) could limit efforts to safeguard communities by removing the federal government’s authority to take action when state water quality standards are not protective of public health,’’ an administration statement said.

Water-quality standards have been a major issue in Florida during the past couple of years, as business groups and many state and local leaders have fought EPA efforts to impose strict standards through what are known as “numeric nutrient criteria.’’

Opponents contend that the criteria would force costly upgrades of facilities such as sewage-treatment plants, which discharge water into rivers and streams. But supporters say the standards would help clean up the state’s waterways, preventing harmful algal blooms and other health and environmental problems.

The House bill takes steps aimed at preventing the EPA from imposing standards that states do not support. Along with the Florida case, the debate Wednesday touched on a controversial EPA decision to block a West Virginia mountaintop coal-mining operation, which had reportedly faced concerns that it would pollute waterways.

The vote was largely along party lines, with 223 Republicans and 16 Democrats supporting the bill and 171 Democrats and 13 Republicans opposing it.

Supporters of the bill said the EPA’s actions hurt businesses and job creation. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, accused the agency of “strong arming the states.’’

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., said Congress needs to “rein in environmental radicals” at the EPA.

“Simply put, the EPA is out of control,’’ Duncan said.

But opponents said the bill would roll back decades of water-quality regulation.

“We have the Clean Water Act because the states consistently failed to meet their obligations,’’ Blumenauer said.

Opponents also took issue with the title of the bill, the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011.’’

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said the bill uses an “Orwellian mantle of clean water.’’


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