Crist Environmental Enforcement Initiative Fizzles
Fewer Pollution Fines Assessed While More Uncollected in Across-the-Board Decline
Tallahassee — The Crist administration’s touted 2007 pledge to toughen anti-pollution enforcement in Florida has been a failure, according to an analysis of state enforcement statistics released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides the toll on the environment, lower civil penalty assessments compounded by the state collecting less of what is owed by polluters are aggravating Florida’s dire fiscal situation.
PEER’s detailed breakdown of 2008 state enforcement numbers shows –
- Fewer citations, lower fines and broad drop-offs in enforcement activity, even in hazardous waste violations, an area where the state had vowed to step up oversight;
- Penalties actually collected by the state fell nearly 10% from 2007 levels. Since these penalty revenues support Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) programs, this dip undercuts future enforcement efforts; and
- Dwindling number of big (over $100,000) cases and half of these are directed against cash-strapped municipalities.
“The Crist administration promised new penalties so tough that pollution penalties would no longer be viewed as ‘a cost of doing business’ but what really happened was the opposite – today polluting in Florida is practically a deductible business expense,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting that there have been slight improvements in the number of civil actions and use of “long form” enforcement orders that can be followed up. “Even where nominal numeric increases occurred, DEP has little by way of results to show the people of Florida.”
The weakest enforcement efforts were seen in the two DEP districts (Southeast and South) that oversee environmental compliance in the Everglades region, where both the state and federal governments propose substantial investments to protect water quality. For example, the heavily contaminated property owned by U.S. Sugar that Governor Charlie Crist seeks to buy has drawn a grand total of less than $17,000 in pollution fines during the past 20 years. This leaves taxpayers with the bill for cleaning up toxic tracts.
“Weak environmental enforcement certainly did not begin with the Crist administration but it surely did not end with it either,” Phillips added, referring to DEP’s historically lax enforcement posture. “By any measure, Florida’s water quality and other natural resources are steadily deteriorating and they will continue to crumble until basic environmental protection laws are finally enforced in a consistent and rigorous way.”
While enforcement records are available from DEP, the agency does not compile or display this data, let alone make comparisons over time. Instead of hard numbers, the DEP website features generic and anecdotal information. The PEER analyses are the only source for comprehensive enforcement facts.