TALLAHASSEE--The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is failing to collect fines levied against polluters, and the problem is getting worse under Governor Jeb Bush's administration, according to agency records released today by Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Florida PEER). Overall, the disparity between penalties assessed against polluters and those actually collected has cost the state more than $45 million since 1987.
The data, obtained from the DEP Office of General Counsel, indicate that most program areas are collecting on far fewer civil penalties today than just a few years ago. The largest decline is among programs that target corporate polluters:
The industrial waste program has collected fewer fines each year since 1999, and last year it collected on less than half of the penalties it assessed;
Hazardous waste violators paid just over half the penalties assessed against them in 2002; and
Total fines collected from air polluters has dropped by hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2000.
"This is money polluters owe to the taxpayers of Florida as compensation for damage done to our environment," commented Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. "Even though we are in the middle of one of the state's worst fiscal crises in history, this administration chooses to coddle corporate polluters rather than take the trouble to collect what they have been fined."
Last month Florida PEER released data showing that penalties assessed against Florida's largest polluters have been on the decline, and that the DEP has forgone the requirement, once commonplace, that violators clean up the pollution problems they create. Today's numbers indicate that this trend extends to penalty collections as well. Of the only two major program areas showing an increase in collections in 2002, one was the Potable Water program, which largely focuses on small, community businesses.
"Forty-five million dollars would have gone a long way toward cleaning up the state's pollution," Phillips concluded.