Florida Goes Soft on Polluters
Sunshine State Braces for Oil Spill but Eco-Enforcement Slump Continues
Tallahassee — As Florida faces grave environmental threats from the spreading Gulf oil spill, the state’s antipollution enforcement performance continues to decline, according to an analysis of state statistics released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The analysis evidences ebbing enforcement efforts and outcomes in most anti-pollution programs during 2009.
“The Crist administration came into office promising to adopt policies that were tough on polluters but after three years the numbers simply tell a much different story,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “Instead of seizing the opportunity to turnaround the disturbingly poor performance of under the Jeb Bush administration, the DEP under its current leadership has very clearly continued the downhill slide.”
Among the findings of the PEER report are that:
- The number of civil pollution penalty assessments dropped, as did the dollars amounts assessed and penalties collected. In 2009, the Department assessed $10,870,901.00 in civil penalties, $795,688.49 less than in 2008 and the third straight year of decline;
- Once again, more than half of the large penalty assessments were against local governments rather than corporate polluters. Only one hazardous waste assessment exceeded $100,000.00—this was the area that Secretary Sole asserted would have significantly higher assessments; and
- Overall, the number of new enforcement cases opened declined. Key programs that saw decreases in the number of enforcement cases are Air, Asbestos, Domestic Waste, Potable Water, Stormwater Runoff and Solid Waste.
There were bright spots for the Department in 2009, such as the continuing drop in the use of short-form consent orders (that lack follow-ups to ensure compliance) to resolve enforcement cases, a growth in serious pollution prosecutions filed and notices of violations issued. On balance, however, the bad news from the state numbers more than outweighed the good.
“This is not just some bean counting because these enforcement statistics reflect whether pollution is being stopped or prevented,” added Phillips, noting that the DEP budget is also adversely affected by lower penalty collections, thus further limiting how many inspections and other enforcement actions the agency can conduct. “These numbers show that millions of Floridians who rely either directly or indirectly upon our springs, rivers and coastal waters to earn a living are essentially on their own when it comes to protecting Florida’s natural resources. All of the photo ops telling us that the state is ready to stand up to polluters like BP mean little coming from leadership that time and again has shown itself to be lax on the industries that they are charged with regulating.”