TALLAHASSEE–Penalties levied against polluting companies took a nosedive between 2001 and 2002, according to documents released today by Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Florida PEER), but homeowners and small business owners saw major penalty increases over the same period.

While the total monetary value of penalty assessments remained largely unchanged (approximately $8.5 million) between 2001 and 2002, the difference was the target of those fines. According to records obtained by Florida PEER from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Office of General Counsel, fines dropped precipitously in nearly every industrial or corporate penalty category in 2002:

Penalties for industrial wastewater and hazardous waste violations declined by more than 50% from the year before;

Assessments against air polluters dropped by nearly a third; and

Fines against solid waste violators declined by more than 85%.

In contrast, penalties assessed by Governor Jeb Bush’s administration against small-time violators and, in particular, homeowners, carried a much higher portion of the enforcement burden:

Domestic waste and potable water assessments, principally targeting mobile home parks and residential developments, saw increases of more than 50% above 2001 levels; and

Penalties for dredge and fill violations, such as construction of boat docks and the filling of wetlands, rose 10% in 2002.

“Even though they are responsible for most of the pollution, corporate violators seem to be carrying ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards,” commented Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “The little guys, who are not represented by major law firms or lobbyists, are getting the book thrown at them.”

Last week Florida PEER released data showing that cleanup orders and other enforcement actions have dropped dramatically in the past decade. The Bush Administration issued an explanatory release claiming to be intentionally reducing lawsuits in exchange for swifter penalty assessments. “These figures suggest that the only ones benefiting from the new approach are the wealthiest violators,” commented Phillips. “Not only has the number of lawsuits in key program areas dropped, but now it is evident that civil penalty assessments are declining as well.”

% Change
+ 54 %
Dredge & Fill
+ 8 %
Domestic Waste
+ 57 %
Potable Water
+ 97 %
Stormwater Runoff
+ 305 %
+ 28 %
– 33 %
Waste Cleanup
$51, 370.00
– 53 %
Hazardous Waste
– 50 %
Industrial Waste
– 52 %
Solid Waste
– 86 %
Underground Injection
– 99 %


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