Florida Goes Soft on Polluters

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Florida Goes Soft on Polluters

Sunshine State Braces for Oil Spill but Eco-Enforcement Slump Continues

TALLAHASSEE - As Florida faces grave environmental threats from the spreading Gulf
oil spill, the state's antipollution enforcement performance continues
to decline, according to an analysis of state statistics released today
by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The
analysis evidences ebbing enforcement efforts and outcomes in most
anti-pollution programs during 2009.  

"The Crist administration
came into office promising to adopt policies that were tough on
polluters but after three years the numbers simply tell a much
different story," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former
enforcement attorney with the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP).  "Instead of seizing the opportunity to turnaround
the disturbingly poor performance of under the Jeb Bush administration,
the DEP under its current leadership has very clearly continued the
downhill slide."

Among the findings of the PEER report are that:

  • The
    number of civil pollution penalty assessments dropped, as did the
    dollars amounts assessed and penalties collected. In 2009, the
    Department assessed $10,870,901.00 in civil penalties, $795,688.49 
    less than in 2008 and the third straight year of decline;
  • Once
    again, more than half of the large penalty assessments were against
    local governments rather than corporate polluters. Only one hazardous
    waste assessment exceeded $100,000.00-this was the area that Secretary
    Sole asserted would have significantly higher assessments; and
  • Overall,
    the number of new enforcement cases opened declined.  Key programs that
    saw decreases in the number of enforcement cases are Air, Asbestos,
    Domestic Waste, Potable Water, Stormwater Runoff and Solid Waste.

There
were bright spots for the Department in 2009, such as the continuing
drop in the use of short-form consent orders (that lack follow-ups to
ensure compliance) to resolve enforcement cases, a growth in serious
pollution prosecutions filed and notices of violations issued.  On
balance, however, the bad news from the state numbers more than
outweighed the good.

"This is not just some bean counting
because these enforcement statistics reflect whether pollution is being
stopped or prevented," added Phillips, noting that the DEP budget is
also adversely affected by lower penalty collections, thus further
limiting how many inspections and other enforcement actions the agency
can conduct.  "These numbers show that millions of Floridians who rely
either directly or indirectly upon our springs, rivers and coastal
waters to earn a living are essentially on their own when it comes to
protecting Florida's natural resources.  All of the photo ops telling
us that the state is ready to stand up to polluters like BP mean little
coming from leadership that time and again has shown itself to be lax
on the industries that they are charged with regulating."

 

 

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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