Florida Environmental Enforcement – How Low Can It Go?
Slight Uptick in 2014 Continues Precipitous Across-the-Board Enforcement Decline
Tallahassee — During Governor Rick Scott’s first four years in office, anti-pollution enforcement of all types has nosedived, according to the latest figures compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In 2014, there was a slight increase of activity from the prior year but the overall numbers for cases filed and penalties assessed and collected remain at historically all-time low levels, second only to the complete abdication of enforcement in the previous year.
Scott’s tenure has coincided with a dramatic drop in enforcement for every pollutant type – air, water, waste, etc. – and in every one of the five Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) districts across the state. The rate of decline is particularly steep during the past two years, as evidenced by:
- An 85% drop in the number of enforcement cases brought. In 2014, there were a scant 234 enforcement cases opened, whereas in 2010, the year before Scott, there were 1,587;
- Of those 234 cases opened in 2014, DEP assessed penalties in only 144 of them – a rate of 62%. Four years earlier, penalties were assessed in 1,318 of 1587 cases opened – a rate of 83%; and
- Although there was a miniscule increase in the number of assessments in 2014 from a year earlier, the dollar value of assessments still declined from the disastrous 2013 levels. And in terms of money actually collected, total collections reached an all-time low.
“Under Scott, the DEP has largely ceased engaging in meaningful environmental protection,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who compiled the figures. “By virtually every measure, enforcement levels are so low that it is hard to even get a pulse.”
The PEER analysis also profiles the track records of DEP managers recruited by Scott. One was promoted after the penalty assessments in her division declined to zero for two years running. Besides allowing polluters to go unpunished, revenue to support state enforcement efforts is drying up.
During his re-election campaign, Gov. Scott pledged to hit environmental “bad actors” with stiffer fines. At the same time, his appointees maintain that enforcement is no longer needed except in those cases in which polluters have failed to avail themselves of the DEP’s “compliance assistance.” Based on this rhetoric, one would expect that while the number of cases would diminish, they should carry higher penalties.
In fact, the statistics show DEP is not only recording fewer cases, but also lowering fines and diminishing follow-through to ensure that violations remain abated. In 2014, DEP assessed a civil penalty in excess of $100,000 in just two cases (down from a paltry three cases the year prior). Both of those cases were against municipalities.
“Environmental enforcement in Florida now resembles that of a corrupt Third World nation,” Phillips added. “Consequently, little is being done to clean up our air and our water, while Scott’s administration continues to hand out what amounts to welfare for corporations across the state.”