For Immediate Release
Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097;
Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
Crist Environmental Enforcement Initiative Fizzles
Fewer Pollution Fines Assessed While More Uncollected in Across-the-Board Decline
TALLAHASSEE, Florida - The Crist administration's touted 2007 pledge to toughen
anti-pollution enforcement in Florida has been a failure, according to
an analysis of state enforcement statistics released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides the toll on
the environment, lower civil penalty assessments compounded by the
state collecting less of what is owed by polluters are aggravating
Florida's dire fiscal situation.
PEER's detailed breakdown of 2008 state enforcement numbers shows -
- Fewer citations, lower fines and broad drop-offs in
enforcement activity, even in hazardous waste violations, an area where
the state had vowed to step up oversight;
- Penalties actually
collected by the state fell nearly 10% from 2007 levels. Since these
penalty revenues support Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
programs, this dip undercuts future enforcement efforts; and
- Dwindling number of big (over $100,000) cases and half of these are directed against cash-strapped municipalities.
"The Crist administration promised new penalties so tough that
pollution penalties would no longer be viewed as ‘a cost of doing
business' but what really happened was the opposite - today polluting
in Florida is practically a deductible business expense," stated
Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement
attorney, noting that there have been slight improvements in the number
of civil actions and use of "long form" enforcement orders that can be
followed up. "Even where nominal numeric increases occurred, DEP has
little by way of results to show the people of Florida."
The weakest enforcement efforts were seen in the two DEP districts
(Southeast and South) that oversee environmental compliance in the
Everglades region, where both the state and federal governments propose
substantial investments to protect water quality. For example, the
heavily contaminated property owned by U.S. Sugar that Governor Charlie
Crist seeks to buy has drawn a grand total of less than $17,000 in
pollution fines during the past 20 years. This leaves taxpayers with
the bill for cleaning up toxic tracts.
"Weak environmental enforcement certainly did not begin with the
Crist administration but it surely did not end with it either,"
Phillips added, referring to DEP's historically lax enforcement
posture. "By any measure, Florida's water quality and other natural
resources are steadily deteriorating and they will continue to crumble
until basic environmental protection laws are finally enforced in a
consistent and rigorous way."
While enforcement records are available from DEP, the agency does
not compile or display this data, let alone make comparisons over time.
Instead of hard numbers, the DEP website features generic and anecdotal
information. The PEER analyses are the only source for comprehensive
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.