Florida Environmental Enforcement Continues Downward Slide
Municipalities Now Account for Half of All Major Pollution Violations
Washington, DC — Despite the green reputation of Governor Charlie Crist, pollution enforcement in Florida continues to decline, according to an analysis of the latest state statistics released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Significantly, municipalities, not corporations, are more frequently the target of state enforcement efforts.
Eleven months ago, on July 18, 2007, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Sole unveiled a new civil pollution fine schedule, declaring “I want to change the idea that ‘penalties are a cost of doing business’ by emphasizing the agency’s tough stance against violators.” In the months that followed, however, anti-pollution enforcement is still dropping. The DEP figures for 2007 show –
- Assessed civil pollution penalties fell by nearly a quarter (23%) in dollar amounts and penalties actually collected declined by one fifth (20%);
- The number of violations that were, in essence, plea bargained reached an all-time high, with nearly two-thirds (62%) of all cases disposed of through “short-form consent orders” which require no compliance assurance or follow-up; and
- While the number of cases referred to the DEP Office of General Counsel for enforcement rose, the number of enforcement orders dropped by 9%.
“The Crist administration has certainly not reversed the downturn in environmental enforcement that began at the end of the Lawton Chiles tenure and continued declining all through the Jeb Bush years,” stated Florida PEER Director, Jerry Phillips, a former DEP deputy General Counsel, noting that the lost revenue from lower civil penalty assessments and collections are aggravating funding shortfalls in DEP, thus further reducing resources dedicated to fighting pollution. “It is important to look at the actual record rather than the rhetoric of the Crist administration. Despite the rhetoric that it no longer ‘pays to pollute’ in Florida the record suggests the opposite.”
One surprising statistic is that county and municipal governments account for 50% of all cases in which civil penalty assessments met or exceeded $90,000, up from 44% in 2006. The majority of those cases were domestic waste cases, signaling significant problems with Florida’s infrastructure.
“Taxpayer-funded entities are simply not complying with Florida’s environmental laws,” Phillips added. “These enforcement numbers are not merely bean counting. By virtually every measure, Florida’s water, air and soil quality are deteriorating and the enforcement of anti-pollution laws is the way we defend our environment and the legacy we leave to our children.”