Washington, DC — Ignoring a steady flow of whistleblower reports about political interference in pollution enforcement, the Inspector General for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued exonerating reports that conflict with the sworn testimony, according to an analysis of Inspector General investigative files released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The watchdog group is calling for the removal of long-time Inspector General Pinky Hall.
“Pinky Hall makes Inspector Clouseau look like a rock star,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former Florida DEP enforcement attorney. “The lack of effective oversight by the Office of Inspector General means that outrageous travesties of justice continue without consequence. There will be no positive change unless and until she is removed from her position as Inspector General.”
The Inspector General is supposed to provide an independent check against abuses by DEP and point out deviations from accepted pollution prevention and enforcement protocols. Under Pinky Hall, the Inspector General never criticizes DEP management on issues involving enforcement, or lack thereof and never sustains whistleblower disclosures of misconduct. In the just past few months, for example, Hall’s office has dismissed employee reports, backed by sworn testimony, that –
- Politically-connected corporations are given 24 to 48 hours of advance notice of pollution inspections. One advance notice order followed a major fish kill by the company;
- A major pollution investigation was shelved after a request from the office of Governor Jeb Bush. In another case, a $250,000 fine was reduced to community service; and
- In a series of cases, DEP investigators were told to overlook finding cattle carcasses buried in protected wetlands, slurries of toxic waste running into St. Joe’s Bay and oil spills from sunken tug boats owned by a state contractor.
The focus of much of this activity has been the Northwest region of the state, including the Florida Panhandle, containing some of the least developed portions. Consequently, the damage from illegal development is often more serious than in Florida’s over-developed southern peninsula.
“The Northwest is the final frontier for Florida developers and, with DEP and its Inspector General under orders to stay quiet, the Panhandle has become the Wild, Wild West for pollution violations,” Phillips added. “Going through the Inspector General’s files one can’t help but notice unmistakable patterns, such as findings that do not match the evidence, a complete lack of investigative notes, failure to put top managers under oath and a failure to follow-up on additional allegations that come out of the testimony.”
In November, 2005, Pinky Hall could not determine who placed a printout of political donations in the file of a candidate selected to fill a key enforcement slot and closed that investigation without even contacting the state agency which produced the printout. That case also involved the role of campaign contributions in deflecting pollution enforcement in the Panhandle.