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Bruce Ritchie, 09/24/2013 – The Florida Current

An attorney representing environmental groups on Tuesday told a federal judge that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was seeking to shirk a court requirement that it set pollution limits in the state.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle gave no indication of how he would rule on the federal agency's request to modify a 2009 court agreement requiring it to set pollution limits called numeric nutrient criteria. But Hinkle zeroed in on arguments by Earthjustice attorney David Guest that state pollution limits that would replace federal rules failed to meet the agreement's requirements.

Guest argued that the state rules, approved by EPA, do not actually set pollution limits because they allow waterways to be put on a "study list" without affecting the issuance of pollution permits. Those rules have not actually taken effect across much of Florida because they require that the federal EPA first withdraw the pollution limits that it set.

"This is no accident it is called the study list," Guest told Hinkle. "Telling the EPA, 'We are going to study it' does not qualify it as numeric criteria." Earthjustice represents the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

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