On Tuesday, January 10th, the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee will meet and discuss DEP’s proposed Human Health Toxics Criteria.  The controversial regulations are languishing in the bowels of the DEP Secretary’s office, waiting for some unknown destiny.  The state was required to submit them to EPA almost 3 months ago, but has not.

Tallahassee attorney Randie Denker, a former DEP enforcement attorney submitted the following letter to the members of the Senate committee.  It is just one of many letters that have been sent, but one of the best that I’ve seen.  Please use it to send your own letter to members of the Senate EPC committee.  Here’s their email addresses:

book.lauren.web@flsenate.gov ; bradley.rob.web@flsenate.gov ; farmer.gary.web@flsenate.gov;  hutson.travis.web@flsenate.gov ; latvala.jack.web@flsenate.gov ; stewart.linda.web@flsenate.gov

Dear Senators,

On Tuesday, you will consider Florida’s proposed Human Health Toxics Criteria. I hope you will accept nothing but the best for Florida.

I myself am a former DEP enforcement attorney. I have been practicing environmental law all over the state of Florida for nearly 40 years. One thing that I have learned over my many years of experience with Florida’s environment and regulatory scheme is how important water is in our state. Because most Floridians are essentially living on top of limestone with a thin layer of permeable sand covering their aquifer, whatever gets into our river, streams and lakes, ends up in our groundwater and thereby our drinking water. When someone discharges a toxic chemical into the surface water, it doesn’t stay there. What is discharged into Class III surface waters can often quickly make its way into Class II shellfish harvesting waters and Class I drinking water. Therefore, what might work in another state can be an environmental disaster in Florida. We have to consider our unique situation when crafting our regulatory scheme, and this must be done based on science, not on politics, because it is “too big to fail.”

At the current time, our state is already dealing with a number of troubling water issues. We are experiencing frequent toxic algae blooms. We are experiencing salt water intrusion in coastal drinking water wells. We are experiencing outbreaks of listeria.There have been cases of infection and even death caused by the flesh-eating bacteria, vibrio vulnificus. There have been frequent problems with enteric bacteria, a sign of fecal contamination. There have been problems with surfactants in the water and xeno-estrogens that alter fish gender. Many waterbodies have radioactive pollution from mining activities. We have many water bodies that are already not meeting the water quality parameters set for their class, e.g. Lake Okeechobee, our largest fresh water lake. Many many others are suffering. The Fenholloway River is pretty much an open sewer. Why then, when there are already so many extant problems that are making animals and people sick, closing seafood harvesting areas and beaches, and interfering with natural and commercial systems would we want to lower (not raise) pollution standards?

I know that I am not telling you something new when I say that tourism is a major source of revenue for our state and many people come to Florida for its beaches and water. Nearly 1.2 million people are employed in the tourism industry and over 105 million visitors came to Florida in 2015 (last year we have records for) alone. 23 million of those tourists went to beaches and spent $22 billion dollars.

Therefore, we have to do everything that we can to protect our water assets and be ever vigilant and endeavor to make them better, not worse. No one will pay to visit a place that is polluted or has the potential to make them sick. Look at what happened to our local water-dependent businesses when the BP Deep Water Horizon accident polluted the Gulf of Mexico. Even though most of Florida’s coastline was spared the worst of the spill, tourism came to a standstill in many places based solely on consumer fears. Can you imagine the devastation to our tourism industry, economy, small businesses and overall quality of life if our water actually was dangerously polluted all the time? This is not conjecture. There are many examples of this phenomenon happening around the world. For example, Lake Titicaca in Bolivia once brought in millions of tourist dollars but is now so badly polluted that the tourism industry has completely collapsed, along with the fisheries resource and a way of life that was thousands of years old.

Bottom line: Maybe lowering water quality standards won’t make a difference in Florida. But do you really want to experiment when so much is at stake? A true conservative wants to conserve, not play Russian roulette with irreplaceable natural resources. Water is more precious than any other resource. We can live without oil, plastic or metals (if we had to) but we cannot live more than a few days without water. To my mind, it is not worth the risk to experiment. It is simply not good policy to help one industry at the expense of known and reliable economic engines that depend on a healthy environment.

DEP’s new proposed criteria will lower standards for 89 known carcinogens and/or human health-based toxic chemicals. Floridians will get weaker protection from almost two dozen carcinogens. Essentially all of the chemicals would be allowed in our drinking water supplies, shellfishing areas, swimming and fishing waters at significantly higher amounts.

Our water is a resource held in trust for all of the people of Florida. Navigable lakes, rivers and estuaries are not private property. They are the common property of all of our citizens, not just the few who can benefit from lower standards for their industrial discharges. It is a sacred duty of government to protect these waters for current and future generations. Therefore, I hope that you will not allow a lowering our water quality standards.

I was present at the ERC rule challenges, and as I am sure you know, there was never a hearing on the merits because the ALJ dismissed the various petitions on a technical defect, ruling that the petitions were all late. As an attorney, I disagreed with the ruling because I felt that DEP had ignored and violated the federal requirement that a 45 day notice be provided to the public before the ERC voted on the changes. I believe that the public interest is best served when such important rules are aired in the full sunshine, debated by knowledgeable people, and given a full and plenary hearing. That was clearly not done in this instance.

Therefore, I would request that you ask for new public workshops around the entire state to insure full participation and attendance, and demand a new ERC hearing that is fully noticed. Better yet, you could simply pass a new law, that does not allow lowering of existing water quality standards but only allow the ERC to pass more stringent ones. In this way, Florida would always go forward not backwards.

Thanking you in advance for your consideration. Please let me know if I can be of help to you as you make this important decision.


Randall Denker

Denker Law Office and
Offices of Waters without Borders
552 East Georgia Street
Tallahassee, Fl. 32303
(850) 893-6753 (phone)
(850) 893-6753 (fax)

About the Author

Linda Young has been the executive director of the Clean Water Network of Florida since 1994. From 1989 to 1997, she founded and published a monthly statewide environmental newspaper. Over the past twenty three years, she has co-founded some of the most long-lasting and effective environmental organizations in the Southeast, including the Gulf Restoration Network, Gulf Coast Environmental Defense and C.A.T.E. She holds a B.A. in Communications from Southern Oregon University and a M.A. in Political Science/Campaign Management from the University of West Florida.

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