Florida Pollution Fines Collected Fell by Half Last Year
Failure to Collect Starves Eco-Programs, Shifting Costs from Polluter to Taxpayer
Tallahassee — Fines actually collected from Florida polluters plummeted by more than half in 2013, continuing a sharp slide throughout the tenure of Governor Rick Scott, according to the latest state figures compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, there is substantially less dedicated funding for an array of environmental programs that clean beaches, protect coral reefs, ensure safe drinking water and reduce air pollution.
Records released to PEER from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for 2013 show that civil penalties actually collected in pollution enforcement actions –
- Declined by 57%, with DEP collecting less than $688,000 in civil penalty assessments during 2013, compared with nearly $1.6 million collected in 2012;
- From a high water mark in 2010, every year since collections have steadily and sharply fallen. Today, DEP takes in less than 10% of the amount collected in 2010, the last year before Gov. Scott took office; and
- In contrast to Gov. Scott’s reelection pledge to hit environmental “bad actors” with stiffer fines, there were no six-figure amounts collected in 2013 as there had been in earlier years.
The only good news was that the rate of collections from penalties assessed remained largely unchanged but the amounts being assessed have dropped to an all-time low, so there is much less to collect.
By law, the fines collected are supposed to be “deposited in the Ecosystem Management and Restoration Trust Fund…and shall be used to fund the restoration of ecosystems, or polluted areas of the state, as defined by the department, to their condition before pollution occurred,” in the words of the statute.
“This collections drought means less money for beach and wetlands restorations in places like the Everglades, as well as less for hazardous waste cleanup and pollution abatement,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who compiled the figures. “Fewer collections are also starving the Department of Environmental Protection, as there is less money to fund employees’ salaries, which will probably result in more layoffs and turnover in the future if the ship is not righted.”
The only other way to make up for theses shortfalls entails a greater investment of taxpayer funds by the Legislature. Currently on the reelection campaign trail, Gov. Scott is simultaneously pledging greater environmental investment in his “Keep Florida Beautiful” plan while promising to cut the tax burdens borne by ordinary Floridians.
“These sinking collections signal a shift from the principle of polluter pays to a taxpayer subsidy of polluters,” Phillips added. “Unless Florida returns to appropriate pollution enforcement levels, there will be fewer cleanups and restorations at greater cost to you and me rather than the parties responsible.”