For Immediate Release: Sep 17, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Slight 2018 Election-Year Enforcement Uptick Yields Scant Results
Tallahassee — Polluters in Florida still have little reason to fear environmental enforcement, according to an analysis of the latest state figures by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Newly released data also show that fewer inspections are resulting in lower rates of compliance.
As Governor Rick Scott ran for election to the U.S. Senate, 2018 saw a slight increase in the number of pollution enforcement actions, after rates had plummeted to an all-time low in 2017. The uptick from 220 to 371 cases last year is still a far cry from the 1,587 cases opened in 2010.
This very modest enforcement improvement produced even more modest results:
- When violations were found, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took formal enforcement action only 16% of the time, slightly better than the abysmal 10% enforcement rate in 2017;
- Enforcement rates varied widely from 54% in the air program to only 3% in the potable water program, with enforcement rates falling in three programs (industrial waste, solid waste and petroleum storage tanks) during 2018; and
- While there were more penalty assessments in 2018, the DEP assessed 19% fewer penalty dollars than it did in 2017.
“Our review demonstrates that anti-pollution enforcement in Florida remains little more than an afterthought,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who compiled the figures, noting that the determination of Governor Ron DeSantis to strengthen DEP remains unclear. “All too often, DEP employees are placed in positions of knowing what steps they should take to enforce the law, only to have to forego those steps if they want to keep their jobs. That is one condition that needs to change.”
For the first time, PEER was also able to obtain compliance data from DEP. That examination showed that noncompliance rose when fewer inspections were conducted. Thus, when DEP reduced its presence at the facilities, there was a corresponding increase in violations.
“These figures indicate that when the proverbial cat’s away, pollution rodents will play,” added Phillips, pointing that claims of near-universal compliance under former Governor, and now Senator Scott were truly “fake news.” “The evidence suggests that achieving pollution compliance takes concerted effort, a commodity often lacking in Florida.”
View trajectory of Florida eco-enforcement