As part of its effort to watchdog Rick Scott's administration, the Florida arm of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) combs through the annual data about the caseload of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The thinking goes that a shrinking number of corrective actions by the state's environmental coppers is proof-positive that the governor is letting polluters and other Earth baddies get off (Rick) Scott-free. The group just released a report examining 2013, and the depressing hypothesis seems to be holding.
To put the numbers in perspective, FDEP monitors around 75,000 permits for environmental infractions. According to the report, which you can read here, in 2013 the department opened a surprisingly low number of new cases into reported problems: 210.
For some sense of how that stacks up to years prior: in 2012, the same department initiated 663 cases. In 2011, it did 1,147. 2010, it had 1,587. That's an 87 percent drop between 2010 and 2013. Between 2010 and 2007, the numbers hovered in the 1,500 ballpark, so obviously there's been some kind of radical change.
Theoretically, you could look at those figures and think that permit-holders are just finally getting the memo about following environmental code. This is what FDEP says the numbers mean. So that would indicate human beings are finally learning to be nice to nature in Florida... probably not.
What PEER suggests these startling stats show is that the department has basically been declawed under Rick Scott's watch, particularly under the FDEP's current secretary, Hershel Vinyard.
"These latest numbers are beyond pathetic; they are downright shocking," Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips stated in a news release after the data were released Thursday. "My concern is that DEP enforcement capacity may have atrophied so much that the agency is irretrievably broken."
PEER has also broken the data down by regions across the state, so we can get a feel for how little environmental enforcement is going on in South Florida. In the Southeastern district for 2013 FDEP worked... 18 cases. In 2012, the region saw 56 cases. The year before that, 128. Cue the sad trombone music, because this is some truly ugly news.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.