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Enforcement of pollution laws drop under Scott

Florida’s enforcement of pollution laws has dropped significantly during the administration of Gov. Rick Scott, according to a report released Wednesday by an environmental group.

The declines during Scott’s first year in office were across the board, from the number of major cases opened to the size of penalties collected, according to an analysis by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Jerry Phillips, director of Florida’s PEER office in Tallahassee, said some falloff was expected because Scott, a former hospital executive, had campaigned on a pro-business, anti-regulation agenda.

“We all hoped it wouldn’t happen but I can’t say I’m shocked by these numbers, although if you look at the numbers in a historic context, yeah, it’s shocking,” said Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Jennifer Diaz, a spokeswoman for the Florida DEP, criticized the report as misleading and “irresponsible,” saying it failed to account for the agency’s proactive efforts. The department’s strategy, she said, includes “compliance assistance’’ outreach efforts with industry, businesses and government agencies intended to reduce violations.

The report by PEER, a national nonprofit whose members include state and federal workers whose names are kept confidential, compared enforcement statistics in 2011 with the previous year. It found:

•  The total number of enforcement cases dropped by 28 percent.

•  Pollution penalties dropped by 29 percent, with the number of fines topping $100,000 dropping by half.

•  Enforcement with mandatory follow-ups to check compliance fell by 62 percent. Previous reports produced by PEER show enforcement fines and cases falling since the administration of former Gov. Jeb Bush, but Phillips said the sharper decline over the last year points to a shift in policy to use enforcement only as a last resort.

~ Curtis Morgan

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