Tallahassee — Alarmingly low pollution enforcement rates in Florida improved slightly in 2006 although big weaknesses remain, according to an analysis of agency data released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Overall, pollution prosecutions by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continued to decline throughout the term of former Governor Jeb Bush.
The state’s figures for 2006 pollution enforcement reveal that –
- DEP opened fewer new enforcement cases in 2006 than in 2005;
- Civil penalties assessed and collected were up significantly from 2005, but this increase was due entirely to just five big penalty cases, with one case accounting for half of total civil assessments for the entire state; and
- Reliance upon short-form consent orders that carry small fines, no clean-up requirements and no follow-up by the state, increased to a record high.
Significantly, DEP enforcement has been under the supervision of Mike Sole, the new Environment Secretary-designate. Prior to being appointed by Governor Crist to head the agency, Secretary Sole served as the Deputy Secretary over Regulatory Programs—the same programs that produced weak results.
“In Florida, it pays to pollute, because the small fines and lax oversight do little to deter future violations,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Pollution violations are treated like parking infractions.”
Only three out of thirteen enforcement programs, Asbestos, Waste Cleanup and Beaches and Coastal Systems, showed increased activity in 2006. In all other program areas, such as Air Pollution and Hazardous Waste, the number of enforcement cases actually dropped from the abysmal 2005 totals.
The PEER analysis also breaks down the performance of each of DEP’s six regional offices (called “districts”) by violation type, with comparisons of recent performance to historic averages. In 2006, the DEP Southwest District, located in Tampa, had the strongest enforcement record while the Northwest District, in Pensacola, and the Central District, based in Orlando, had the weakest.
Even in enforcement areas that showed some increases, progress was thin and uneven. For example, asbestos cases showed a slight rise, but two of the DEP’s six districts brought no asbestos violation cases and another district brought only one case garnering a $4,000 fine.
“We hope that Governor Charlie Crist will aspire to do better than the dismal pollution enforcement record compiled by the Jeb Bush team,” Phillips added. “The choice of Mike Sole to run DEP suggests that the Crist administration has no intention of embracing tough prosecutions as a strategy for combating pollution.”