For Immediate Release: Jun 04, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Florida’s Eco-delusion Deconstructed
Official Claims of Near Universal Pollution Compliance Flatly Untrue
Tallahassee — Repeated boasts by the Scott administration of widespread compliance with Florida anti-pollution laws are debunked by an examination of official data released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Unfortunately, the DeSantis administration now appears to be adopting these same unsupported claims to justify low and declining enforcement taken against violators.
Since 2012, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a series of statements that compliance by the regulated community exceeds 95%. It took months for PEER to obtain the underlying figures which, in fact, show the opposite, with significant rates of non-compliance. The DEP has also claimed that compliance rates are historically high; however, the agency now acknowledges that it has no compliance data predating the Scott administration.
In Florida’s potable water program, for example, fewer than 42% of the potable water facilities and 52% of domestic wastewater facilities were actually in compliance with rules to protect drinking water.
Further, these compliance rates have been dropping since the 2015/2016 fiscal year.
Even these dismal figures are likely significant underestimates due to DEP numbers games, including:
- Compliance is based only upon the number of facilities DEP physically inspected, which is a small fraction of all facilities. Meanwhile for the period between 2012 through fiscal year 2017/2018, the total number of inspections conducted by DEP dropped by nearly half (46%);
- DEP has told the public (and the regulated community) that it only counts what it terms “significant noncompliance” and that other violations, such as failure to report emissions and discharges, are unworthy of enforcement; and
- Even when major violations are found, DEP sends what are called “Compliance Assistance Offers” advising that no formal enforcement will be initiated if the violator corrects the violation or allows DEP to educate the violator about the steps needed to comply with the violator’s permit.
“Florida has taken a dangerous ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ posture about pollution loads entering Florida’s environment,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney who conducted the analysis. “DEP’s approach is equivalent to the Highway Patrol informing motorists that only drunk drivers will be ticketed, while speeders and other moving violators won’t even get a warning.”
DEP figures suggest approximately 20,250 regulated facilities are out of compliance each year, though the actual number is likely much higher. At the same time, the percentage of noncompliant facilities against which the DEP took formal enforcement under Scott peaked at 14% and has declined since.
“In 2018, Florida saw record outbreaks of blue-green algae and red-tide blooms that caused major health issues and economic paralysis, yet the state has taken little action beyond calling for more “studies” to curb the continual nutrient discharges that fed these distressing phenomena,” added Phillips. “If Florida’s policymakers keep peddling the false picture that Florida has no pollution problem, we can expect a repeat of last year’s clean water crisis.”