Scott’s Undeclared Polluters’ Holiday Stains Florida
Total Pollution Fine Revenue at Historic Low; Many Violators Face No Fines at All
Tallahassee — Pollution pays in Florida because violators often get off scot-free, according to a new analysis of state records by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Overall, this review shows that anti-pollution enforcement by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continues on a radically downward trajectory coinciding with the tenure of Governor Rick Scott.
The PEER analysis of raw enforcement data from the Florida DEP reflects a slight uptick in cases opened during 2015 but the overall case activity is still at anemic levels – 81% below the number of cases opened in 2010, the year before Gov. Scott took office. The case outcomes, however, are more dismal than almost any previous year on record. In 2015, the DEP –
- Collected the lowest amount of fines in 28 years, going back to the advent of the agency’s civil collection program. Most of the fines assessed were in paltry amounts. For the first time in nearly 30 years, DEP assessed no penalty above $100,000;
- Assessed penalties that totaled 32% lower than in 2014, which, in turn, issued penalty assessments totaling 29% lower than 2013; and
- In one-third of formal enforcement cases, levied no penalty at all against violators.
These low fines show corporate violators are not even being slapped on the wrist. Nor does Florida make any practical effort to recoup profits realized from cutting corners on environmental compliance.
Moreover, since the penalty assessments provide financial support for DEP enforcement activity, the nosedive in penalty revenue drives a vicious cycle of less funds for DEP enforcement which, in turn, means less enforcement leading to ever lower penalty revenues, and so on.
“In Florida, polluters do not need a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card because few pay any fine and virtually none risk going to jail no matter how egregious the environmental offense,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who compiled the report, which includes breakdowns of statistics by DEP district, pollution program and by type of enforcement action and outcome. “Under Governor Scott, DEP staff are strongly discouraged from bringing enforcement actions and the plummeting numbers reflect it.”
The 2015 figures bear out this no-enforcement posture at DEP, which issued 87% fewer consent orders than the year before Scott took office. The vast majority of those orders were “short-form” orders with no provisions for cleanup or preventing repeat violations.
“Looking at the implosion in pollution enforcement under Governor Scott, it is no wonder that Florida is increasingly becoming an environmental basket case,” added Phillips, noting that every week seems to bring news of a new eco-calamity in the Sunshine State. “A hyper-friendly business climate will not attract employers in the absence of a healthy, clean environment.”