Water Cleanup Funds Are in Question Once Again; Congressional Budget Battle Includes Stopping the EPA from Using Federal Money to Enforce Clean Water Laws

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

Congressional wrangling to stop new federal clean-water rules for Florida rivers restarted this week in a budget bill to keep the federal government operating.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., filed legislation this week to keep the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from using any federal money to implement the rules it set in November.

The restriction, being encouraged by business groups from California to New York, is one of a stack of proposals that environmental advocates say could collectively hobble many EPA projects to regulate water and air pollution.

"Republicans have created a feeding frenzy for those intent on dismantling laws that for decades have protected our air, water, climate and wildlife," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

The measures were offered as "riders," or amendments, to a bill that would fund many government operations when a current stopgap measure expires March 4.

Similar rules to keep the EPA from enforcing its water rules, which limit the amount of algae-feeding nitrogen or phosphorus compounds allowed in Florida lakes and rivers, were drafted at least twice last year for use in earlier continuing resolutions, but weren't adopted. State officials have also sued the EPA, claiming the agency used faulty science to set its standards.

The number and variety of anti-regulatory riders being offered this time reflects a decision by new leadership in the House of Representatives to challenge the EPA's water regulations on many fronts, said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for the legal advocacy group Earthjustice.

"This is very, very bad legislation for clean water," Mulhern said. "I know there's a cost associated with cleaning up water, but whether it's Florida or anywhere in the country ... the benefits of clean water usually far outweigh ... the costs."

Uncertainty about the real costs was part of Rooney's reason to hold up the EPA's Florida rules, said Michael Mahaffey, communications director for the conservative lawmaker from Tequesta in Palm Beach County. …