By JOHN HAUGHEY THE CENTER SQUARE
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will ask the Legislature in 2020 to raise the state’s $10,000 fine for spilling sewage into waterways by 50 percent == a measure aimed at municipalities, since most sewage treatment plants are owned and operated by local governments.
He will also request lawmakers give the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the capacity to levy daily fines after the initial $15,000 penalty until the issue has been remedied because, he said, “Right now, it’s a slap on the wrist and move on.”
That, DeSantis said last week during a press conference in Naples, would give the penalties some “bite.”
“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,” he said. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”
The governor cited a recent 900,000 gallon sewage spill into Tampa Bay by three cities, including 750,000 gallons from Clearwater, and not acting swiftly to repair the discharge as an example of why the state needs to get tough on sewage leaks, prompting some at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center to suggest lawmakers consider fining by the gallon.
“A hardline increase in fines across the board sends a clear message to those who would pollute our state’s natural resources — Florida will not stand for it,” DeSantis said. “This will provide better incentives to folks, particularly municipal governments in Florida, to make sure we are doing things to be good stewards.”
Increasing fines for sewage spillers is part of DeSantis’ $625 million budget request in recurring funding for the next three years for Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s water resources.
It is the same amount he asked for last year in his first budget proposal and the second-year component of his four-year, $2.5 billion water quality plan.
Lawmakers ultimately approved $682 million in the state’s fiscal 2020 budget for the first year of DeSantis’ Everglades restoration and water quality projects plan.
“Last legislative session was a resounding victory for the future of Florida’s environment,” said Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. “The governor has been relentless in his initiative to protect our environment and the Legislature will continue to work closely with his administration to ensure a better Florida for all.”
Conservancy of Southwest Florida President/CEO Rob Moher lauded DeSantis for generating “incredible” momentum for environmental protections in his first nine months in office.
“There’s still much to be done to face the challenges ahead, but working with leaders across our state I’m confident our focus on science-based solutions will lead to a better, cleaner environment for all Floridians,” Moher said.
A breakdown of DeSantis’ $625 million budget request includes:
- At least $300 million for Everglades Restoration and the EAA Reservoir project
- $50 million for springs restoration
- $50 million for Total Maximum Daily Load projects (TMDLs) to ensure water bodies throughout the state have appropriate nutrient levels
- $15 million for projects within the St. Johns River, Suwannee River and Apalachicola River watersheds
- $10 million for Coral Reef protection and restoration.
- The remainder will be appropriated for other water quality, alternative water supply and water conservation projects, “including innovative technologies for nutrient reduction and harmful algal bloom prevention and mitigation,” the Governor’s Office said in a release.
DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said it’s important to boost funding to take “historic steps to protect our environment and water quality,” but without enforcement of regulations, the investment will be devalued.
“One of the most important things we have taken on under this governor’s leadership is enforcing the laws we have on the books,” he said. “How can we take on something new if we are not enforcing the laws that we have? The increase of fines will provide an additional tool to enforce the environmental laws we have on the books.”
John Haughey is the Florida contributor to The Center Square.