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Group Is Skeptical of Gov. Rick Scott's Call For More Environmental Regulation

Topher Forhecz

During his campaign stops around the state, Governor Rick Scott has been promising to get tougher on polluters if he’s re-elected.

During an event this week in Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Southwest Florida, Scott said, “there are people who are going to be out here wanting to do things, we gotta have tougher penalties,” he said.

“The max right now is 10 thousand dollars,” Scott explained. “We need to have tougher penalties. We need to make sure that if someone is going to break the law, there are really repercussions.”

This is the kind of thing that environmentalists like Jerry Phillips with the Florida chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) want to hear. PEER is a watchdog group that monitors the state’s environmental regulators. But, Phillips said he does not buy it.

“You just gotta shake your head and kind of wonder how he can say this with a straight face,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he’s been crunching the numbers for years and has found that police action by the state’s environmental agency under the Scott administration is at historic lows.

According to his report, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) only opened 210 new cases in 2013. That’s an 83 percent decline from 2008—when the agency opened 1526 new cases. Phillips said enforcement action has dropped by 88 percent since 2010.

“These numbers that they are producing show that they simply have forgotten that they are a regulatory entity,” he said.

Phillips said it doesn’t help that staff numbers at DEP have fallen under Scott’s administration. Also, Scott and the Legislature have slashed various environmental regulations and fast-tracked permitting as part of a pro-business agenda.

Tiffany Cowie, a spokesperson for DEP, said in a statement the reduced caseload through the years is because quote “compliance rates across the department’s regulatory programs are at an all-time high of 96-percent.”

She said that’s because DEP has increased outreach efforts to businesses and is focusing on preventing environmental harm before it occurs. But, Phillips argued it doesn’t make sense to call for more enforcement if almost all businesses are truly in compliance.