When labor unions and tea party supporters end up united against a federal plan, you know the Obama administration has a problem.
And when they stand together in the politically divided state of Florida, then the White House really has a problem – one that could seriously cripple re-election efforts in a crucial swing state.
The groups are part of an unusual coalition that’s fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent new rules for clean-water nutrient levels, which would require phosphorous and nitrogen levels in all lakes, bays, rivers, streams and canals in Florida to be held to those of the area’s most pristine waterways.
The EPA’s rules, unveiled recently, are set to be implemented -- in Florida, only -- next year.
EPA's supporters, led by environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Florida Wildlife Federation, say the efforts will reduce toxic algae blooms that often cover Florida’s waterways.
But critics -- including several top unions, business groups, municipalities and fiscal conservatives -- call the rules a federal over-reach that could force the cash-starved state to spend billions unnecessarily. The rules amount to a federal government “cram-down,” critics say, that would create impossibly high standards, kill jobs and increase water bills for each Florida household by a whopping $700 a year.
So far, Florida’s voters seem to be siding with those critics. A recent poll commissioned by the Foundation for Associated Industries of Florida showed that 68 percent of Floridians oppose the EPA’s water regulations if the regulations were to result in a $700 increase in their annual water bills. Opposition has jumped 7 points since last August.
“In the current economic climate, Florida voters are not inclined to support sweeping new environmental regulations if it involves taking more money out of their shrinking pockets,” said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason‐Dixon Polling & Research.
The poll shows the EPA’s water mandates could also impact the 2012 presidential campaign in the all-important state of Florida. According to the poll, 45 percent of Floridians polled said this issue would make them less likely to vote for President Barack Obama, a number that Coker said could swing Florida into the GOP column next year.
The debate has found its way into the budget fight on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have acted in recent weeks to halt or slow the EPA. Rubio is pushing a bill to defund EPA’s enforcement of the Florida standards, while Nelson recently wrote to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, asking the agency to “suspend application and enforcement of the rule, while providing for an independent analysis of the costs of compliance and continuing to help cities and counties prepare for its eventuality.”
In an op-ed to a local Florida newspaper, Rubio and Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., recently wrote that “if an EPA regulation has the potential to cost our state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, we want to ensure it is based on sound science.”
Despite the increasingly heated rhetoric, a compromise could be taking shape. Nelson has said he wants a more detailed study to ascertain the actual costs of the mandate, and environmental groups have said they would endorse such a move.
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