Nine protesters turned out at the South Florida Water Management District on Monday as part of a statewide protest of a bill they say will increase toxic algae outbreaks in Florida waterways.
Chanting “End the Slime!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Toxic slime has got to go!” the group held signs urging the defeat of a measure (HB 7115, SB 1808) that would give the Florida Department of Environmental Protection the power to establish water quality standards. The bills have moved through committee and are awaiting floor votes in the House and Senate.
The DEP reached a deal March 15 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that expanded the state’s authority to set nitrogen and phosphorus levels in most of the state’s coastal streams, estuaries and rivers, including the Intracoastal Waterway.
“DEP’s rules, which unlike EPA’s rules were upheld in court, are the strongest in the nation,” said Drew Bartlett, director of the DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “They will cover virtually all waters and consider biology in addition to chemistry, providing a far more comprehensive picture of waterbody and habitat health.”
Environmentalists want the EPA to oversee the standards, claiming the state cannot be trusted to formulate and regulate rules that set limits on the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen in Florida waterways that have been linked to outbreaks of toxic slime.
“This will seal a backroom deal between Gov. Rick Scott and the (EPA) that would give Florida the reigns to regulate sewage, fertilizer and animal manure pollution in a way that the state’s biggest polluters want,” said John Ullman, a Sierra Club spokesman, reading from a press release. There would be “no meaningful limits, a myriad of loopholes … and whole swaths of the state’s water bodies exempt from any protection at all.”
During years of lawsuits, DEP has been accused of failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act. In a settlement reached earlier this year, the EPA approved the DEP’s proposal to test waterways and set pollution limits.
The statewide protest occurred in 10 cities, including Gulf Coast communities that have been hard hit by red tide, high concentrations of microscopic algae that produce a toxin that can kill marine animals and cause respiratory problems in humans.
More than 200 manatees died this year from red tide. Other Florida waters have been crippled by blue-green algae blooms, which look like foam, scum, or paint floating on water surfaces and have a foul smell.