Tallahassee — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) tells industrial water polluters not to submit detailed reports needed to ascertain permit compliance, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The waiver of this reporting requirement stands in sharp contrast to its proposed punishment of a DEP laboratory manager for supposedly not submitting sufficient quantities of these same technical descriptions of data limitations called “Data Qualifiers.”
Tom Frick, the Environmental Manager of the DEP Bureau of Laboratories, told his agency’s Inspector General during an October 31, 2006 interview that he had ordered state laboratories to stop accepting Data Qualifiers in receiving “reporting data on DMR [Discharge Monitoring Reports from industry]” used for both safe drinking and industrial waste water programs.
Ironically, DEP is threatening to fire Tom White, the manager of the agency’s Port St. Lucie laboratory, for his allegedly low usage of Data Qualifiers, which the agency decided are not at all necessary for industry submissions of pollution data. Frick made his admission during an investigative interview with White.
Significantly, the industry submissions are used for enforcement and regulatory purposes, while the laboratory data prepared by White was for planning and classification. Since they are admissible in court and may be the basis for sanctions, if anything, industry submissions should be more rigorous, not less so.
“At DEP, what is good for the goose apparently does not count for the gander,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, whose organization is defending White. “At the very least, this is one doozy of a double standard.”
By allowing industry to turn in only summary data about its pollution discharges rather than the full lab reports, DEP makes it much harder for its own staff to determine whether the industry is violating the limits of its permit.
Citing lack of Data Qualifiers from its own lab, DEP has called into question more than five years of detailed water quality monitoring data on virtually every large South Florida canal, estuary and other water body. As a result, state efforts to reduce pollution in places such as the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee have been thrown into limbo.
“DEP’s inconsistency leaves its own employees in a bind,” Phillips added. “When it comes to polluters, DEP bends over backward to bend rules but when it comes to cleaning up fouled waters, DEP will not act if it sees a comma out of place.”
Meanwhile, Tom White has remained on paid administrative leave since October 31. A proposed disciplinary action has been pending against him since January 3. White and PEER provided DEP a response to the charges last week at a meeting in the agency’s West Palm Beach office. Officials at DEP are still pondering the situation and have announced no deadline for their decision.