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Utility Companies Concerned About Pollution Notification Plan

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Suzanne Young

Representatives of utility companies and municipalities told environmental regulators this week they are concerned that a proposed pollution-notification rule could place excessive reporting burdens on industry and local governments.
The Department of Environmental Protection held its seventh and final workshop Wednesday to hear public comment on the proposed rule, which was ordered by Gov. Rick Scott last month after a pair of pollution incidents raised questions about the state's public-notification process.

Scott's call came after a sewage spill in Pinellas County and after a massive sinkhole south of Lakeland sent toxins into the Floridan Aquifer. The latter came to light in September only after the news media reported on the incident, which occurred at a Mosaic Fertilizer phosphate plant near Mulberry.

While critics accused the administration of intentionally withholding information, Scott's office blamed flawed state regulations and called for stricter requirements for notifying the public when pollution occurs.

The proposed requirements include same-day notification of state and local government agencies and the news media upon discovery of the pollution. But utility representatives told a panel of department officials this week that despite "laudable goals," the proposal could have negative consequences.

Utility groups contend, in part, that the proposal is too broad. It states "any owner of an installation who has knowledge of any pollution at such installation shall provide notice" to a specified list of officials within the contaminated area.

The utilities argued vague use of key legal terms — including “pollution” itself — in the proposed rule would create ambiguities that could impose onerous compliance costs and hamper their response to pollution-related disasters.

The department will hold a formal hearing on the proposed rule on Nov. 7 — the last day of the public comment period — in Tallahassee, where regulators will seek to finalize the rule.

The final workshop was held Wednesday in Jacksonville after similar meetings were held during the past two weeks in Tallahassee, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Fort Myers, Pensacola, and Temple Terrace.