Tallahassee — As Governor Rick Scott barnstorms Florida this week promising to get tough on polluters, the actual number of enforcement actions brought against environmental violators has reached new historic lows, according to the latest state figures compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The total of new anti-pollution enforcement cases opened in the past year is only a small fraction of those in years past, with sharp statewide declines in virtually every pollution type, continuing a steep decline throughout Scott’s tenure.
Records released to PEER by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for 2013 reveal a sobering culmination of a nose diving pattern:
- The DEP opened only 210 new enforcement actions in 2013, a more than 83% decline from the 1526 cases DEP opened in 2008. To put these numbers in some perspective, DEP claims to oversee some 75,000 permits but is pursuing violations in only one-quarter of 1% of them;
- The number of enforcement actions requiring corrective action or monitoring has fallen even lower – only 153 cases, a jaw-dropping drop of 88% just since 2010; and
- The declines are evident in every DEP district and every form of pollution enforcement, except the underground injection program which brought one new case the same as it did in 2012.
“These latest numbers are beyond pathetic; they are downright shocking,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, who compiled the figures. “My concern is that DEP enforcement capacity may have atrophied so much that the agency is irretrievably broken.”
Under Scott, the DEP enforcement staff has been targeted by crippling layoffs and new directives have been issued restricting enforcement. Prior annual reports by PEER documenting the DEP enforcement slide caused Scott appointees to deride enforcement as unnecessary because under his administration’s industry friendly approach regulatory compliance is improbably approaching near universal levels.
By contrast, this week Gov. Scott campaigning for reelection unveiled a “Keep Florida Beautiful Plan” featuring a pledge to start “hitting polluters and bad actors with tougher penalties.” The plan provides no detail except to suggest that the current $10,000 per day civil penalty is “ridiculous.”
“Florida does not need new laws to protect the environment, we need to start using the laws we already have” Phillips added, noting that under Scott DEP rarely pursues maximum civil fines let alone criminal penalties which would put “bad actors” into jail. “To date, Governor Scott has been the best friend pollution bad actors could possibly have. If he is going to turn over a new leaf for reelection he needs to start by immediately rebuilding his dismantled DEP and bringing in new agency leadership.”