WASHINGTON (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) — The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association (FCA) filed a lawsuit on April 28, 2011, challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination letter and final rule establishing numeric nutrient criteria (NNC) for Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams and springs. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee. According to NCBA Chief Environmental Counsel Tamara Thies, the groups are asking the court to do two things.
“First, we ask the court to set aside and hold unlawful the letter and rule because they are arbitrary, capricious, go beyond EPA’s statutory authority and are in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act,” said Thies. “Secondly, we ask the court to set aside the letter and rule and stop EPA from further action on both due to the irreparable harm Florida agricultural producers will suffer if the agency’s actions are not stopped.”
Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), each state must develop water quality standards that relate to the designated uses the state chooses for its waters. In a review of its water quality standards, Florida determined on its own that numeric criteria would be appropriate. On Sept. 28, 2007, EPA approved Florida’s revised Numeric Nutrient Criteria Development Plan. Environmentalists then sued EPA for failure to develop new water quality standards for Florida. EPA initially contested the argument. However, in a December 2008 memo, EPA staff caved to the environmentalists, laying the foundation for EPA to establish numeric nutrient criteria in Florida. According, to Jim Strickland, FCA president and a cattle rancher from Myakka, Fla., EPA’s plan will likely serve as a model for other water basins across the country.
“There is no reason to believe that this is only a Florida or Florida agriculture issue. It touches every homeowner in the state. EPA has indicated that this rule in Florida will be a template for the rest of the country. I have no reason whatsoever to believe Florida is the only target,” said Strickland. “I believe if this rule isn't stopped dead in its track, it will be a model for every water basin in the country, including the Mississippi River Basin, which is the lifeblood of rural America.”
Strickland said EPA’s plan is not just an attack on the cattle industry or rural America. He said the NNC rule will cause substantial financial damage to an already struggling economy. This rule is estimated by EPA to cost Florida approximately $113 million in implementation costs and roughly $35 million annually. However, other experts predict this rule carries a much heftier price tag. A study conducted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida and Soil and Water Engineering Technology, Inc., concluded that the economic impact could easily reach $3.1 billion in implementation costs and annual costs could top $974 million. The study also predicts 15,000 agricultural jobs will be lost.
“This isn’t good for Florida. This isn't good for America. We are not alone in our opposition to the NNC rule. Both Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and their predecessors have filed suit on behalf of the state of Florida. Our elected leaders have been outspoken against this rule. Furthermore, just last week our own Department of Environmental Protection asked EPA to rescind this rule,” said Strickland. “EPA is overreaching with this mandate and their methodology is flawed. EPA has little to no regard for farmers and ranchers and obviously no respect for congressional intent.”