Gov. Rick Scott appears on track to fulfill his vision of making the Florida Department of Environmental Protection a customer-service oriented rubber stamp that allows industry to dump on the environment with little worry.
In 2011, there was a 28 percent drop in enforcement cases handled by the DEP, while pollution penalty assessments dropped by 29 percent, according to a report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
This drop in enforcement is in line with orders handed out by top DEP officials. An internal memo from Jeff Littlejohn, deputy secretary for regulatory programs at DEP, urges employees to work with companies and public entities found in violation of environmental laws rather than take action.
Littlejohn wrote that when "noncompliance occurs despite your best efforts at education and outreach, your first consideration should be whether you can bring about a return to compliance without enforcement."
PEER asserts that the unstated goal of the memo is to make sure the DEP "resists enforcement in all but the worst cases."
Littlejohn was appointed to the position by current DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard, who may have lied on his resume to get the gig. The Environmental Protection Agency is looking into the matter to determine if Vinyard's business ties put him in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
The PEER report also shows that there were only nine cases involving a fine of more than $100,000 in 2011, a 50 percent drop in such cases from 2010. Furthermore, the DEP's Office of General Counsel handled the third lowest number of case reports in the history of the agency.
Jerry Phillips, an attorney with PEER who previously worked for the DEP, said in an email the current trends are troublesome because they do nothing to protect the environment. Phillips noted that there is "no compensation for public resource damages, so it becomes a backdoor taxpayer subsidy to polluters."
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