A federal court in Florida has upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) determination that numeric standards are necessary for Florida waters, but remanded certain aspects of the water quality criteria to the agency. Fla. Wildlife Fed’n v. EPA, No. 8-324 (N.D. Fla. 2/18/12). In 2001, EPA recommended criteria for states to regulate nutrients that enter state waters from agricultural activities. While the agency allowed the states to develop their own criteria, it retained the authority to override a state and implement its own criteria if a state had not enacted an acceptable plan by 2004.

In 2008, Earthjustice sued the agency on behalf of five environmental groups, alleging that EPA had failed to comply with a nondiscretionary duty to set numeric nutrient criteria. The complaint sought a court order requiring EPA to set quantifiable and enforceable limits for nutrient contaminants in the state. In January 2009, EPA issued a determination that Florida should set numeric nutrient standards. In January 2010, the agency proposed numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waterways as part of a settlement with several environmental groups. 75 Fed. Reg. 4,174 (1/26/10). On November 14, 2010, EPA signed the final rule. 75 Fed. Reg. 75,762 (12/6/10). The court’s decision involves 13 separately filed but now-consolidated challenges to the 2009 determination and the rule adopting numeric criteria.

The court ruled that EPA was correct in its decision that numeric criteria were required, but invalidated the criteria the agency set for streams, holding that the agency’s modeling and field studies did not support the result. The court upheld EPA’s criteria for lakes and springs and the agency’s decision to allow site-specific alternative criteria, as well as procedures for adopting them. According to news reports, the state may now enact nutrient pollution standards, subject to EPA approval. See Law360, February 21, 2012; and BNA Daily Environmental Report, February 22, 2012.