Florida’s Environment – More Violation Notices but Less Results
Cleanups and Civil Fines Down in ’04; “Traffic Ticket” Mentality Decried
Washington, DC — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is taking more enforcement actions but having less effect, according to an analysis of agency data released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite more notices of violations, civil fines and orders to clean up pollution continue to fall below historic averages.
“The basic problem is Florida DEP treats pollution violations like traffic tickets – the violator pays his fine and speeds off down the highway the same as before,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “In the vast majority of cases, there is no attempt to alter practices, remediate problems or even monitor whether promises not to pollute further are kept.”
Florida PEER analyzed the raw enforcement data from all of the Florida DEP districts in 2003 and 2004 and compared that data with previous years. The resulting analysis reveals that –
- Civil fines assessed in 2004 were down more than $1.2 million from the year before. This marks the fourth straight year that civil fines fell below historic averages;
- In 2004 the number of air pollution, hazardous waste, and beach protection cases declined, but the sharpest fall off was in wetlands enforcement (dredge and fill). The industrial and hazardous waste categories represent those cases that can cause the greatest harm to Florida’s environment. The precipitous drop in dredge and fill cases signals a leniency towards development interests; and
- Florida DEP is increasingly relying on short-form consent orders that are easier to bring but lack long-term effect. Consequently, the state is issuing small fines to polluters but taking no steps to abate the pollution.
“The key is not the numbers but whether Florida’s environment is being adequately protected,” added Phillips, noting that assessments in areas critical to environmental quality, such as hazardous waste, industrial waste and dredge and fill all seem to be in decline. “It is difficult to see how Florida is being protected by a system that, in essence, just issues tickets to polluters but does not follow up to see if they have stopped polluting.”
The Florida PEER analysis breaks down the performance of each of DEP’s five regional offices (“districts”) by type of violation and includes comparisons of recent performance to historic averages. In this review, DEP’s Northwest District, located in Pensacola, has the weakest record while the Southwest District, in Tampa, has consistently had the strongest.
While the enforcement records are a matter of public record, the biggest data gap is that DEP does not appear to track the number of cases that inspectors deem worthy of enforcement, but are declined by management.
Read the PEER report on Enforcement Efforts by Florida DEP in 2003 and 2004 (raw data available upon request)