Washington, DC – A Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigation confirms serious mismanagement of the state’s oil drilling program yet Governor Jeb Bush’s top environmental employee, DEP Secretary David Struhs, is claiming vindication, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Last month PEER brought the problems to light in an employee-authored exposé entitled Crude Behavior. Today the agency watchdog group released a 27-page critique of the DEP investigative findings containing excerpts from the Inspector General report. The excerpts from the report confirm that serious environmental and safety violations are routinely ignored in the agency’s Oil & Gas Program.
“David Struhs has again taken the position that if a manager’s misconduct is not criminal then it is good enough for DEP – this is the same tack he used to defend Northwest District Director Bobby Cooley after a grand jury demanded his removal for dereliction of duty,” commented PEER National Field Director Rob Perks. “As a result of the investigation, DEP is proposing an array of administrative and legislative solutions while denying that there is any problem.” Proposed changes address the (now validated) facts:
* Scores of abandoned oil wells remain unplugged, posing a continuing environmental and safety risk despite the existence of a state trust fund (which has never been used);
* Staff had not received proper safety training and, as a result, inspections of oil and gas facilities and chemical facilities have not been conducted; and
* DEP has yet to take enforcement action against any oil company and the department has no tracking system to tell whether promised clean-ups have taken place or which operators have prior violations.
“The way that Governor Bush’s staff handled this issue bodes ill for the prospects of environmental reform in Florida,” added Perks. “Congratulating agency management despite the serious problems uncovered in the Oil & Gas Program suggests that, short of a criminal indictment, poor leadership and lax enforcement by staff will be tolerated.”