A new report shows the state’s environmental regulatory agency isn’t enforcing laws as much as it used to.
According to a statewide group that represents environmental regulators, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been regulating companies significantly less in the past few years.
The report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) shows the total number of enforcement cases opened by the agency in 2012 fell by 42 percent compared to 2011—and is down 58 percent from 2010.
The group also found through a public records request that the agency has filed less consent orders and levied fewer penalties.
Jerry Phillips, the director of PEER, said this could have long term effects on Florida’s water and air quality.
“Frankly, the numbers show that the agency apparently does not consider itself to be a regulating agency anymore,” he said.
This year, Gov. Rick Scott also signed a bill that relaxed several environmental permitting processes.
The Associated Press reports the DEP said the drop in enforcement cases is due to a focus on prevention.
Phillips said, however, now is not a good time for the state to back off on environmental regulation.
“That tells the oil companies or the power companies—whoever is involved—it tells them that they don’t need to be as strict with complying with their permits,” he said.
Meanwhile, there’s renewed interest among oil companies to increase oil production in Southwest Florida. Right now, the DEP is considering an oil permit in eastern Collier County.
In the past few years, the agency has gone through a series of layoffs.