Tallahassee — Scott administration claims that environmental compliance had climbed to record rates are not backed up by the statistics it recently surrendered, according to records posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, Scott appointees in Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are acting behind-the-scenes to suppress pollution violation reporting.
In a March 20, 2014 news release, DEP asserted that “significant compliance with [environmental] rules and regulations rose to 96 percent, a two percent increase from 2012.” The release alleged that this steady climb began in 2009 when regulatory compliance was an oddly specific “89.7%.” The next day, Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, submitted a public records request for the numbers behind these claims. Two months later, DEP produced an undated set of tables that –
- Reflect much higher significant noncompliance rates than DEP had claimed. The figures were inconsistent, however, showing significant non-compliance in inspected facilities ranging between 10 and 20%, higher than the historical “between 10 and 14 percent” DEP claimed to be the norm;
- Completely discount recordkeeping violations without explaining how DEP knows a facility is in compliance if its monitoring data was not submitted. If these “paperwork” violations are included, noncompliance rates spike to between one third and two thirds of all facilities inspected; and
- Indicate a severe drop-off in the number of inspections DEP is conducting, down by more than a third in just the past two years.
“Like Soviet-era election results, Governor Scott’s absurdly high numbers are products of crude attempts to rig the system to mask reality,” Phillips stated, noting that DEP does not even maintain a roster of regulated facilities, so the percentage that are inspected remains unknown. “In the business world if the books given to investors were cooked like this it would be called securities fraud.”
In its release, DEP touted its “significant education and outreach efforts over the last two years” bragging that “As a result, the number of legal actions filed and monetary fines levied by the Department in 2013 has dropped to a record low.” While PEER has documented this precipitous decline in pollution enforcement during Gov. Scott‘s tenure, several internal changes at DEP make it difficult for agency staff to pursue violation notices or even issue letters of warning. For example –
- The long-standing DEP enforcement manual now requires that if violations are documented, the agency sends out a “Compliance Assistance Offer” letter which allows the offense to be excused if the company allows DEP to teach them how to comply – a virtual “Get-out-of Jail” card; and
- A convoluted guidance chart covering an entire page, resembling a Rube Goldberg cartoon, depicts all the hoops DEP personnel must jump through before issuing a simple warning letter.
“It used to be that pollution penalties were an accepted cost of doing business in Florida but now Gov. Scott offers to ‘comp’ even major violations without even a nominal penalty,” added Phillips, arguing that pollution in Florida has become a corporate freebie. “Under Scott’s no-foul regardless of harm system, corporations have absolutely no economic incentive to avoid fouling our air, water and soil, knowing that if caught the only punishment is attending a self-help seminar.”
View precipitous drop in pollution enforcement under Gov. Scott
See below the gauntlet DEP staff must endure to issue a warning letter