Desantis Must Rebuild Floridas Broken Environment Agency
DEP Has to Return to Pollution Control Basics to Reverse Spiraling Eco-Threats
Tallahassee — This year, red tide and algal blooms exploded in Florida’s waters as pollution control imploded. Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) called on Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis to reverse the deep deterioration in the capacity of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to effectively monitor let alone stem a rising tide of pollution discharges.
Under outgoing Governor Rick Scott, DEP enforcement efforts plummeted by 86% due to overly industry-friendly policies that routinely forgave even repeat and flagrant violations.
PEER is urging the incoming DeSantis administration to put some teeth back into state anti-pollution laws by allowing DEP to once again take enforcement action against violators and to –
- Let DEP staff do their jobs by ending Tallahassee micro-management of districts, restoring civil service status to program administrators, and lifting the gag order against discussing climate change;
- Make penalties a meaningful deterrent by removing the economic advantage to cheating, making every day of violation count, and increasing fines for repeat violators; and
- Inspect facilities once every three years and follow up on all violations.
“These suggestions are simple, proven, common-sense enforcement procedures,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Universal forgiveness may reflect a Christian ethos, but it is a terrible strategy for reducing the pollution load in our air and waters.”
Lack of enforcement also means that DEP is collecting less penalty revenue which, in turn, reduces resources available to DEP for pollution control activities. This ongoing depletion fuels a debilitating feedback loop and steadily drains DEP capabilities.
Since the early days of the Scott Administration PEER has frequently heard from staff that they are afraid to even recommend enforcement action because a complaint from industry could cost them their jobs. Instead, DEP provides extensive technical compliance assistance to violators at taxpayer expense without any means of recouping the outlay.
“In DEP today, taking enforcement action requires a profile in courage by the staff – and that fear has to end if this agency is to have any hope of turning things around,” Phillips added. “The DeSantis administration must assure its employees that it is not afraid to tackle the tough issues facing Florida, including our declining surface and groundwater quality and even the taboo topic of climate change.”