Friday, December 28, 2012

Florida Continues Downward Trend in Environmental Oversight

This contamination site in Duval County Florida contains
arsenic and lead and is managed by the Florida DEP.
Click for photo credit.
I'll have a post in my end of the year series on overlooked environmental issues of the year later today, but I had to memorialize this article from the St. Petersburg Times about the layoff of long-term employees in Florida's main environmental oversight organization, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  

As most of my readers know, I was a professor in Florida for over 21 years.  Over that time, I saw the slow dismantling of many of the environmental rules in the state and the shrinking of the organizations involved with their management.  Just take a look at Florida's housing crisis and the overbuilding that occurred.  Some of this happened because of very lax oversight or rules on everything from transportation infrastructure requirements to wetlands protection.  While everyone could see that the boom couldn't last, politicians were doing everything in their power to promote more development by eliminating sound planning.

Now, according to the article, more employees, some of them long-term employees who did truly heroic work in the state, are being laid off and replaced by industry insiders and political appointees.  Many believe that the DEP is completely broken and that the state is using budget cutting as an excuse to layoff employees who actually ensured that rules were followed.

For those who cheer this development and think that the DEP should be smaller or shouldn't exist at all, please remember that this organization regulates pretty much everything that keeps Florida safe from pollution--pollution such as giant pools of hydrofluoric acid, sewage, and noxious gases.  States should have a strong organization involved with the oversight of these pollutants that has the full trust of the public.  Clearly this is not the case in Florida and it hasn't been this way for a long time.  

I think that the reason for the DEP's decline in Florida is that the state's executive and legislative branches of government are dominated by one political party and it has been this way for years.  There is very little oversight in Tallahassee that commonly happens with two-party systems.  

What can happen in situations like this is a strong swing back when the public becomes disgusted with corruption and incompetence.  There is certainly nothing wrong with having an efficient, well-run organization involved with environmental protection that works within a set budget.  But, the current DEP is problematic and puts the citizens of Florida at risk.  

1 comment:

spencer said...

I think that the reason for the DEP's decline in Florida is that the state's executive and legislative branches of government are dominated by one political party and it has been this way for years.

This, I think, is at the root of almost all of Florida's problems. The state legislature has been controlled by the GOP since 1992, and control of the governor's office went to the Republicans in 1998. Over that time, pretty much everything in Florida - the economy, the environment, the education system, the infrastructure - has deteriorated significantly.

Is that a coincidence? I suspect not, and for the same reason you bring up - there is no oversight, and no incentive not to openly and blatantly reward political backers because there's basically no chance that you'll pay any price at the ballot box, since the other party organization is completely dysfunctional.

It's a sad state of affairs, and there were once a lot of good things about this state. No more, though. The Florida I grew up in is looooooong gone.