Florida’s wildlife and environment endangered by the governor

ORLANDO, Fla. – Since his first year as governor, Republican Rick Scott’s environmental track record has been a natural disaster.

The state of Florida, under Democratic and Republican Governors, has had a steady five-decade accumulation of positive environmental policy and enforcement (not without hiccups) that has led to the purchase of millions of acres of natural preserves, protecting the Everglades and many waterway clean-up projects. Now, under Gov. Scott’s tenure, that progress has halted and even deteriorated. 

Since taking office, Scott has watered down environmental protection law, cut funding for conservation and clean water, appointed development/energy industry friendly department heads, ordered Department of Environmental Protection and other state workers to not acknowledge climate change and laid off DEP investigators, and all while championing himself as an environmentalist at election time.

From the start, Scott appointed Secretary Herschel Vinyard to head the Florida DEP, a shipping company executive and attorney who had special “insights on the challenges businesses face in the permitting process.” In other words, expertise on how to skirt environmental law, as an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times framed it.  And since then, enforcement has dropped by just about every measure. The governor even has his own personal finances tied to lax environmental protection.

The governor’s investment in the French energy company Schlumberger is in the six-figures. At the same time, it is Gov. Scott and his Cabinet that oversee the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and are tasked to regulate oil drilling in Florida. This is obviously a conflict of interest if the governor has investments in businesses that should be regulated by DEP and other state agencies.”

In a report released this July by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), statistics show an 85 percent drop in environmental enforcement. According to the PEER report, “Scott’s tenure has coincided with a dramatic drop in enforcement for every pollutant type – air, water, waste, etc. – and in every one of the five Department of Environmental Protection districts across the state.”  The PEER report continued, stating:

  • In 2014, there were a scant 234 enforcement cases opened, whereas in 2010, the year before Scott, there were 1,587.
  • Of those 234 cases opened in 2014, DEP assessed penalties in only 144 of them – a rate of 62 percent. Four years earlier, penalties were assessed in 1,318 of 1587 cases opened – a rate of 83 percent.
  • Although there was a miniscule increase in the number of assessments in 2014 from a year earlier, the dollar value of assessments still declined from the disastrous 2013 levels. And in terms of money actually collected, total collections reached an all-time low.

Jerry Phillips, the Florida PEER director and a former DEP enforcement attorney, recently stated that “environmental enforcement in Florida now resembles that of a corrupt third world nation. Consequently, little is being done to clean up our air and our water, while Scott’s administration continues to hand out what amounts to welfare for corporations across the state.”

Not only has Scott stacked the DEP with pro-industry and development appointees, but, according to Mark Ferrulo of Progress Florida, “Gov. Scott, his administration, and his allies in the legislature have declared war on wildlife.”  Ferrulo continued saying that in 2012 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission removed the Florida black bear from the threatened species list and “despite substantial public outcry and no scientific evidence it’s needed, the Wildlife Commission (packed with Gov. Scott’s appointees) approved a hunt on Florida black bears.” 

Ferrulo went on to say that the Wildlife Commission this June made it clear that the vulnerable Florida panther is next.  And now Gov. Scott’s supposed wildlife protection agency is “looking to persuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to de-list the Florida panther from the endangered species list and take over management of the panther population.”

When the Florida panther was added to the U.S. list of endangered animals, the population was in the double digits. But now, after decades of habitat management and “imperfect but improved protection,” the Florida panther population falls between 150 and 250 in the wild and to continue to safeguard the panther, much more habitat needs to be protected.

“This has met resistance from some ranchers and big developers,” Ferrulo continued. “Instead of working to provide incentives to landowners and developing ecological pathways for panthers to expand their range into a sustainable size, the Wildlife Commission is moving in the opposite direction.”

In what would seem like an episode of the Twilight Zone, Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times reported last week that Gov. Scott is set to receive an award from the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida for “being instrumental in helping develop a strong connection between fish and wildlife conservation and traditional outdoor activities like hunting and especially fishing.” It so happens that the chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Rodney Barreto, is the owner and president of Barreto Group, a Miami real estate investment and development firm and lobbyist.

Floridians have three more years of Scott’s horrid environmental policies to look forward to.  Hopefully public outcry will begin to be heard by the governor and his cabinet before more damage can be done to our state’s fragile ecosystem.

Photo: In a demonstration of Rick Scott’s hypocrisy, the politician has been championed for supposed assistance in fish and wildlife conservation, but in truth, with his pro-industry – including pro-oil – stance, he has declared war on wildlife.  |  Joshua Leclair/PW


Joshua Leclair
Joshua Leclair

Josh has worked as a motorcycle mechanic and an organizer for a public sector union in Florida. He is currently active in Central Florida's labor and progressive movements. Josh grew up in New Smyrna Beach and now resides in Orlando.