The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Florida Cattlemen's Association filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's final rule establishing numeric nutrient criteria for Florida's waters. During a conference call with the media, NCBA Chief Environmental Counsel Tamara Thies said the lawsuit is asking for two actions on the part of the court.
"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."
Several years ago in a review of its water quality standards, Florida determined on its own that numeric criteria would be an appropriate change from the narrative criteria that had been used prior. EPA approved the state's revised numeric nutrient criteria plan in 2007 with the criteria being set by 2011.
However in 2008 environmentalist groups sued the EPA for not developing new water quality criteria for the state of Florida, claiming that a 1998 EPA Clean Water Action plan called for that action. EPA originally contested the lawsuit, but later agreed to settle the lawsuit by agreeing to issue a determination letter, laying the foundation for EPA to establish numeric nutrient criteria in Florida.
"It was created as a tool to avoid future litigation and was not a determination based on science," Thies said. "In addition the water quality criteria are arbitrary because EPA cannot even today establish a cause and effect relationship between the concentration of nutrients in water and an observable negative biological response."
Thies says that the numeric criteria are beyond the scope of EPA's authority under the Clean Water Act.
Florida Cattlemen's Association President Jim Strickland told reporters that he really doesn't want to be doing this.
"I'm not one who believes that lawsuits are the answer to every problem, but in regard to this issue we see no other choice," Strickland said. "This administration has allowed EPA to overstep legislative intent and these actions will devastate the U.S. cattle industry."
Strickland says he sees no reason whatsoever to believe Florida is the only target. He said he believes 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 he called the lifeblood of rural America.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and University of Florida conducted a study that concluded that the economic impact could easily amount to billions of dollars.
"Specifically the study estimated the total initial cost for Florida agriculture could reach up to $3.1 billion," Strickland said. "The total annual costs are expected to reach up to $974 million. Lost revenues on land that has to be taken out of production to implement on-farm water treatment practices are estimated $631 million annually. That all translates into total recurring expenditures and revenue reductions for agriculture reaching up to $1.6 billion annually."