Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife
“Nutrient Pollution: An Overview of Nutrient Reduction Approaches”
October 4, 2011, 2:30 pm
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for calling this hearing today. I appreciate the committee’s broad approach to the extremely complex and difficult topic of nutrient pollution. I would also like to thank this committee for its leadership on a number of important national issues like hydraulic fracturing. I appreciated the kind words you had for our Oklahoma witness at that hearing, Senator Cardin, and I hope that we can continue to have these kinds of discussions in the future.
I am eager to hear from Ms. Shellie Chard-McClary, Division Director, Water Quality Division, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and Mr. Richard Budell, Director, Office of Agricultural Water Policy, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Both Oklahoma and Florida have taken distinct approaches to dealing with nutrients based on their states’ waterbodies, climates, and economies. I am particularly looking forward to hearing about Oklahoma’s approaches to nutrient pollution.
Nutrients are different from other water pollutants because they are not intrinsically toxic. They occur naturally and their presence is essential to healthy waterbodies. However, when conditions such as sunlight, water flow, temperature, and background water chemistry are right, they can be problematic. I know we will hear from a number of our witnesses about the adverse effects of excess nutrients on waterbodies including excess algae growth, dissolved oxygen depletion, and pH increases.
As you know, I had firsthand knowledge of the problems related to excess nutrients this summer. As you may remember, I got sick after swimming in blue green algae that appeared in parts of Grand Lake. Fortunately, it turned out well for me. I even got a get well card from the Sierra Club.
Because of all of the factors that contribute to nutrient pollution, the levels that may be impairing one water body may be healthy for another. The bend towards an easy single number or a one size fits all policy on nutrient pollution is not the way to appropriately tackle this issue.
I recently released a report exposing the high costs of EPA’s Water Regulations and the impacts on state and local governments. The Clouded Waters report explores some of the major regional initiatives to control nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and Florida. These strict regulatory approaches are costly and have questionable environmental gains attached to them. I hope we can learn from these expensive, heavy handed approaches, and find ways to support states in developing scientifically sound management approaches to dealing with nutrient reductions, that don’t force an unfair choice between a healthy economy and a healthy ecosystem.
Many states have become concerned about the Chesapeake Bay and Florida approaches and are concerned that similar policies will soon be forced upon them. Underlying these concerns are questions of process and science. In fact, the major litigant challenges to both the Chesapeake Bay TMDL and Florida’s Numeric nutrient criteria are related to shortchanging the process for review, and insufficient or incorrect science. If decisions are rushed through the process without employing sound science, excessively stringent regulatory requirements could be imposed on the regulated community and create unnecessary economic impacts without improving water quality.
My concerns with EPA’s current Nutrient Framework relate directly to what has happened in the Chesapeake Bay and Florida. EPA’s desired outcome is a definite number, independently applicable, regardless of the cause and effect between nutrient levels and water quality and regardless of water quality goals. No matter how well intentioned EPA may be, this process short cuts the science, imposes costly mandates on both states and the regulated community, and may delay any meaningful improvements in nutrient load reductions.