Florida Eco-Enforcement Made Uneven Comeback in 2010
Crist Record Better than Jeb Bush’s But Scott Cutbacks May Wipe out Gains
Tallahassee — Enforcement of anti-pollution laws in Florida picked up in some significant ways during the final year of the Crist administration, according to a new analysis of agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This tentative progress is at risk of reversal by significant staff cutbacks and crippling loopholes pushed by the Scott administration.
The PEER analysis of Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) statistics shows that during 2010:
- DEP opened and prosecuted more enforcement cases than in the previous year;
- DEP assessed and collected significantly more civil penalties than in previous years; and
- DEP won more big cases with civil penalties of more than $100,000.
Stronger enforcement was not seen across-the-board in all DEP programs and regions, however:
- Six key antipollution programs (asbestos, dredge and fill, domestic waste, hazardous waste, industrial waste and solid waste) saw declines in the number of enforcement cases opened in 2010. Only two programs, stormwater and underground tanks, showed significant gains;
- The area program labeled a top priority by the Crist administration, hazardous waste enforcement, actually recorded a decline in median penalties assessed; and
- Only two of the five DEP districts (Southwest and Southeast) had higher enforcement numbers, with the Southwest District accounting for a third of all enforcement activity statewide.
“Pollution protection in Florida varies widely from district to district and from program to program,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, pointing out that the agency does not evaluate or analyze its own enforcement numbers. “Florida still acts like a Third World country without a consistent or concerted effort to protect its citizens and environment from pollution.”
Significant reductions in agency staff and funding under the Scott administration will likely cause enforcement numbers to nosedive even though DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard contends that cutbacks will somehow “give the environment the most bang for the buck,” according to a recent statement.
“Enforcing pollution laws is hard, labor intensive work most efficiently and effectively accomplished with experienced staff,” Phillips added, noting that PEER has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove Vinyard from Clean Water Act matters due to his conflicting industry ties. “Contrary to the magical thinking that our state leaders are now peddling, environmental and public health laws do not enforce themselves.”