State regulators approved a plan Tuesday that revises Florida's water rules under the federal Clean Water Act in a move that environmentalists say will actually diminish the quality of drinking water and open channels that allow a future in the state for oil and gas fracking.
In a daylong event featuring scores of speakers against the measure, the Environmental Regulation Commission voted 3-2 to OK the revisions.There are two vacant seats on the commission, which is chosen by Gov. Rick Scott.
Among the comments in a live-streamed hearing, Jennifer Jurado, director for environmental planning for Broward County, said "a false sense of security" exists widely regarding Florida's water resources.
The water plan, according to the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, “would increase the number of regulated chemicals allowed in drinking water from 54 to 92 chemicals and raise the allowed limits on more than two dozen known carcinogens — all currently regulated — from levels that are from 20 percent to 1,100 percent higher than current standards.”
Stephanie Kunkel, a lobbyist, said the Conservancy of Southwest Florida urged "not approval." Debbie Lightsey, a former Tallahassee commissioner, said "if you know Florida, if you live in Florida, you know it's all about the water."
Lightsey said to "keep standards as high as possible."
The plan imposes tougher limits on some chemicals, including cyanide and beryllium, while relaxing limits on others, including benzene, a byproduct of fracking, the controversial oil and gas drilling process. Benzene is a carcinogen in groundwater associated with fracking.
"The benzene thing is strictly for the oil and gas industry — for fracking," said Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Action Network. "There is no other explanation."
The federal Environmental Protection Agency still needs to sign off on the plan and Young indicated a lawsuit is possible.
Jon Steverson, head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the DEP contend the new “Florida specific” water rules will ensure people will be able to continue eating fish and drinking water and says there is no tie between the rule changes and fracking.
"I've been in contact with the federal EPA, which has confirmed every change is in line with its own recommendations,'' Steverson said.
» Photo: Above, fracking preparation in Pennsylvania via Getty Images.
» Captive breeding may be the last chance to save Florida's grasshopper sparrow, North America's most endangered bird. (Via Audubon)