Florida Eco-Enforcement Still Scraping Bottom
Even Slight Upturns Cannot Mask Historic Nosedive in Pollution Control
Tallahassee — In Florida, anti-pollution efforts have so contracted that they are on life support, according to a new analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While figures for 2016 show some minor upticks, these are overshadowed by a decline in the rate of case filings by more than three-quarters since 2010.
When compared with 2015, last year’s data supplied by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to PEER generally show marginal improvement in the overall enforcement apparatus but do not suggest any significant changes in the overall non-enforcement posture adopted by Governor Rick Scott back in 2011. A review of DEP’s 2016 figures shows –
- DEP opened 307 cases in 2016, a 4% increase from 2015 but 81% below the number filed in 2010;
- While there were slight increases in some pollution programs during 2016, there were declines in the beaches and coastal, and air, programs, with significant drops in hazardous waste, state lands, and tanks programs. Enforcement in the beaches and coastal program has now fallen every year since 2013. Meanwhile, there has been only one asbestos case opened since 2013; and
- The Southeast District, which covers some of the most populated parts of the state, saw a 42% reduction in cases, suggesting an enforcement collapse in that office.
“Environmental protection in Florida is on life support and in some areas barely registers a pulse,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who compiled the report, which includes detailed breakdowns of DEP actions and outcomes by district, pollution program and by type. “The numbers are now so low even a thimbleful of enforcement activity moves the scales.”
Even the small spots of good news in DEP numbers have to be viewed in context. For example:
- While assessments and collections are up slightly, that was largely a function of just one case against Mosaic Fertilizer, before its site experienced a catastrophic sinkhole; and
- Long-form consent orders, which require more DEP oversight, rose 57%, while short-form consent orders that require the polluter to only pay a fine, fell 12%. However, case referrals for serious enforcement action by the DEP Office of General Counsel fell 57% in 2016.
“Without federal grants from U.S. EPA, Florida’s anti-pollution program would completely implode,” added Phillips noting that the Trump White House wants to cut those EPA grants to the states by more than 30%. “The fact that the lifeline for protecting Florida’s environment runs through the Trump administration is sobering, to say the least.”