Thursday, January 03, 2013

Florida's Tragedy of the Commons: Environmental Protection ... by gimleteye

The right-wing spin machine has been in full force, railing against newspapers with the temerity of pointing out that covering up Florida's polluted waters has turned out to be a signature achievement of Gov. Rick Scott's administration. It is the same spin machine that forced my OPEDS off the pages of the Orlando Sentinel six years ago, giving birth to this blog, Eye On Miami.

Here is what the Florida Department of Environmental Protection posted as white wash. But first, here is the response by Clean Water Network's Linda Young on a blog by Rachel Maddow:

(Herschel Vinyard is the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection) "... thank you Rachel for taking notice of Florida's very thinly veiled pretense to protect the environment. My organization (Florida Clean Water Network) and Florida PEER have petitioned EPA to remove Vinyard from his post as DEP Secretary almost since he was appointed. EPA gives lip-service to caring about the blatant violation of putting an industry representative in charge of the very same agency that he recently sought permits from. While it is truly sad that so many DEP employees were off-handedly dismissed during the holidays like yesterday's garbage, the truth is that they weren't being allowed to regulate or enforce anything anyway. The agency has become a total waste of taxpayers money. Not only is DEP not doing anything pro-environment anymore, they are actually dismantling our environmental protections at a rate that even I (a very jaded but highly attentive professional) would have never imagined. Adding insult to injury, the EPA, Region 4 is allowing Florida to violate federal environmental laws, and rubber-stamping everything the state proposes. Water quality and quantity is in steep decline and still the special interests that are controlling DEP, the Governor's office and the state Legislature demand more weakening. Not only is our water and air quality being neglected, but public health is at risk, especially for children, minorities and low-income residents.

The newly appointed regulators do not need experience as they are taking their marching orders directly from the lawyers who have long worked for the industries that they are supposed to now regulate. As a Leon County Circuit Court judge stated in a final order back in 2004 for a case that we filed and won against the Florida DEP, "the Florida DEP has so neglected their duties that the industries that they are supposed to regulate are now running the agency". That's not a direct quote, but captures the essence of his disgust at what we revealed about the agency during our trial. That was 2004 and it has fallen into far greater dysfunction over the eight years that have passed since then."

And now, for the DEP response with a preface by Larry Fink, former top scientist with the South Florida Water Management District:

Note (below) the number of responses that are deflections and redirections rather than direct answers presenting contrary evidence. There was a purge, and those who were targeted were those most likely to be taking their public service seriously by denying permits to entities that did not qualify for them, writing tough but fair permit conditions for those who did qualify, and enforcing those conditions when the consumptive users of wetlands and water quantity or quality abused the privilege, not the right, to consume the public trust in the public interest. Conversely, those who were spared were more risk-averse and kept their heads down than their more public service-minded but more vulnerable brethren and cisterns. Such purges are not limited to one party, however, as evidenced by the high level officials who were terminated or left SFWMD voluntarily with their terminated patron saints when Governor Chiles was elected and Sam Poole took over as Executive Director.

Larry E. Fink, M.S.
Waterwise Consulting, LLC

From: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 12:29 PM


SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT -- ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION the Record Straight on the Miami Herald editorial:

"In Florida, the foxes are guarding the henhouse
CLAIM: Editorial states last month, “its leaders decimated
the ranks of longtime, experienced -- and apolitical -- employees, 58 in all.”

Florida Department of EnvironmentalProtection has 3,024 full-time
employees, plus another 830 part-time employees, statewide who are dedicated to
enforcing federal and state rules, studying the environment and seeking to
leave Florida better tomorrow than it is today. Recent reductions amount to 1.5
percent of the workforce. To characterize this percentage of employees as a
decimation is factually inaccurate.
CLAIM: “This is the sad, but not surprising, culmination of the slow
erosion of the agency's regulatory imperative to ensure that growth and
development did not come at the expense of unreplenishable natural resources.”
Department’s recent reorganizations were conducted after months-long
assessments of procedures and processes as well as staffing and workload
levels. By reorganizing districts and
divisions, leadership eliminated levels of bureaucracy in order to improve
communication, created a stronger employee to supervisor ratio and combined or
elevated similar functions to become more efficient and consistent, which will benefit the environment and agency.

These reductions have done nothing to erode the agency's role in regulating industry and protecting the environment. As noted above, there are nearly 4,000 people employed to protect the environment.
CLAIM: “The purge got rid of regulators who had the backbone to say No to
politically connected developers and engineers. With them went decades of
experience and commitment to DEP's mission, basing their decisions in science
and research.”
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: This seeks to discredit the remaining thousands of employees with decades of experience and commitment to the Department's mission of protecting human and environmental health. Employees are developing restoration roadmaps for our springs and impaired waterbodies, dedicating hours to helping businesses and residents remain or come into compliance in order to avoid environmental harm and funding hundreds of millions of dollars to local drinking water, wastewater and stormwater facilities and waste-cleanup projects every year.

CLAIM: Now, the department is being populated by administrators
who come directly from the industries that regularly seek the DEP's favor. It's
telling, disturbingly so, that most of the employees dismissed were in the
compliance and enforcement divisions.
strives to employ the most qualified staff members and seeks a diverse group of
individuals to lead. Not
only have private-sector employees been hired, but internal employees have been promoted within the Department.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post-- FDEP is a disgrace for its namesake. I have long ago lost all my faith in the fidelity of FDEP. Looking through documents available online at the FDEP website provides countless instances of recorded violations without enforcement. I personally know a case of contamination where FDEP favors industry instead of the harmed individuals. Its a shady business.
I am sure that there are people at FDEP who are "good", but they are not in charge in way that can actually protect the public from toxic exposure.