A bill passed in the Florida Senate’s Natural Resources Committee yesterday would give the Department of Environmental Protection the authority to enter into voluntary agreements instead of requiring national discharge permits for large dairies.

The bill (SB 1518) was developed in response to a ruling in Leon County Circuit court last month. In that ruling Judge Ralph Smith said that the DEP did not have the legal authority to enter into voluntary agreements with dairy producers to manage manure waste and protect waterways and that all large dairies would have to apply for federal permits under the Clean Water Act. The state is appealing that decision in the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.

Under the Florida DEP’s voluntary program — which has been approved by the EPA — producers agree to limit pollution and keep detailed records of rainfall, irrigation, manure applications and fertilizer use. The program has been touted by supporters as a successful model of cooperation between regulators and dairy producers.

Environmental groups are outraged at the Senate bill, which they say, is an attempt to get around the judge’s order.

There are just two weeks left in the legislative session. And supporters still need approval by the full Senate and the House.

The Palm Beach Post