I-Team: Report claims Florida Department of Environmental Protection neglecting environment

TAMPA - The job of the Department of Environmental Protection is to the protect the environment, as the title says. But a new report from an environmental watchdog group claims that under Governor Scott, the agency is more concerned with being "business friendly".

The report, compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claims DEP is no longer doing its job, and is doing more to accommodate businesses than protect the environment.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Kent Bailey of Sierra Club Tampa Bay." The new charge is to make Florida business friendly. Local DEP officials are being told to work it out. Don't file a case, don't seek penalties, come to an agreement," Bailey said.

The report compiled enforcement statistics from DEP during Governor Scott's first year in office. It claims DEP enforcement cases fell 28% in Gov. Scott's first year, pollution penalties dropped 29%, and the total penalty fees collected from violators dropped 57%.

Environmentalists say the new approach will have long term effects on Florida.

"It means lower quality water, lower quantity water, it means loss of habitat, loss of wildlife, it means more sinkholes, more pollution in your water and in your air," Bailey said.

The report blames Governor Scott's influence and staff changes at DEP. They say Gov. Scott's goal for the agency is to help reduce environmental regulations to aid businesses in the midst of the recession.

Gov. Scott's office did not return calls for comment, but DEP officials say their commitment is as strong as ever.
"Environmental protection goes beyond just issuing and collecting penalties; it is the Department of Environmental Protection's responsibility to protect Florida's environment through management and stewardship, as well as enforcing environmental laws," said DEP spokesperson Jennifer Diaz.

But critics claims the statistics prove Florida's environment is in danger.

"It's not like we've got a new sheriff in town. The sheriff has left town. It's the wild west," Bailey said.

PEER has also filed a complaint with the EPA to try and remove the DEP secretary from office.

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