For Immediate Release: Jan 03, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Florida Treats Oil Companies with Kid Gloves in Spill Cleanups
Taxpayers Often Left Holding the Bag in Leaking Petroleum Storage Tank Program
Tallahassee — Florida taxpayers routinely get the shaft in the state’s leaking petroleum storage tank program, according to a new white paper released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). By contrast, the oil companies responsible for the spills get off easy.
PEER looked at cases since 2011 of cleanup of petroleum contaminated sites that are owned or were owned and operated by major oil companies and found –
- Three major oil companies who received taxpayer funds for cleanups had also submitted claims to their private insurers seeking reimbursement for monies that they had allegedly paid towards remediation of petroleum contaminated sites. The companies were Chevron USA, ConocoPhillips Company, and Sunoco;
- Rather than refer these cases for criminal fraud prosecution, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) instead negotiated civil settlements with the companies to recover only some of the lost revenue; and
- DEP did not use its own Office of General Counsel but instead retained a private law firm that it paid almost $500,000 for its work.
“Double-dipping is considered a no-harm, no-foul offense in Florida if it involves a major oil company,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who wrote the white paper, noting that the settlements did not require the companies to admit wrongdoing. “Adding insult to injury, the program for cleaning up petroleum spills – their own product – is already a double taxpayer subsidy for oil companies.”
State records also show that only one of the companies, ConocoPhillips, has paid the full settlement amount it negotiated with DEP ($3.2 million). Chevron has paid $5,521,085.85 of the $7 million that it agreed to pay in 2014, leaving it with a balance of $1,478,914.15. Sunoco has paid $429,884.74 of the $475,000.00 that it agreed to pay three years ago. It still owes $45,115.26.
“Heck, Florida taxpayers are not even collecting interest on the more than $1.5 million still owed to them,” Phillips added. “Nor could we find evidence that the Department conducted any investigation beyond these three companies to determine whether other such situations exist.”
The Florida PEER white paper (“Contaminated Petroleum Sites in Florida: How the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Administers Its Statutory Obligation to Clean Them Up”) provides a detailed look at the history and track record of this major pollution control program and documents the many ways in which it has gotten derailed to the detriment of both residents and environment of the Sunshine State.