Governor & Florida Senate substantially increases environmental fines many focused on wastewater infractions
Posted May 4, 2020
TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Governor Ron DeSantis’, working with Florida Senate increased fines on environmental discharges or exceedances found support from the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee resulting in large hikes in the amounts and duration of penalties for violating Florida environmental guidelines and laws.
While this move may move some violators to act and may appear reasonable to many people, Bill Sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said “Floridians deserve the strongest reasonable protections” and that many penalties the Department of Environmental Protection can impose (50% increase in penalties), these restrictions may prove impossible or at least hard to live by as punitive costs for small businesses and wastewater treatment facilities.
Some of the fee increases may prove beneficial and indeed reasonable… the civil penalty for dumping non-commercial litter, for example, would go from $100 to $150. Violating an order regarding coastal construction would increase from $10,000 to $15,000.
Similarly, certain civil penalties would run until the violations are resolved by order or judgment. The duration change would be made by declaring each day an offense occurs as a separate offense so the penalties would compound daily.
DeSantis in September called for a 50 percent increase in fines for environmental violations. He labeled the existing structure a “slap on the wrist,” noting penalties for sewage spills are capped at $10,000 a day while pollutants are flowing.
“What we end up seeing happening is, you have some of these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said when making the request. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”
DeSantis wants the fines to continue being assessed until environmental harm is considered fixed or plans are worked out with the Department of Environmental Protection to address the issues.
The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties argued last year that increased fines on governments would eventually come from taxpayers and delay needed sewer upgrades.
As this new fining structure starts to unveil itself, small, non-environmental infractions, such as mistakes or tardiness in reports or reporting, mathematical mistakes, etc can carry the same punitive amounts.
The fine structure seems to be directed at municipalities but small “mom and pop” systems may find that small infractions carry large fines and could prove to be more than a small system can carry. The punitive measures may be too big to successfully pay the fines while making repairs and keeping a business healthy or even alive.
Excerpts from News Service of Florida