by POLITICO’S Bruce Ritchie
March 9, 2017
Gov. Rick Scott may have reversed himself on whether polluters should be required to notify the public after a spill occurs.
After a sinkhole opening at a Mosaic Co. fertilizer plant in Polk County last August wasn’t publicly disclosed for a month, Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to issue an emergency notification rule and said he would push for legislation.
“Today, I am demanding any business, county or city government responsible for a pollution incident to immediately tell the public,” Scott said on Sept. 26. “That is common sense and our residents deserve that.”
DEP issued an emergency rule requiring those responsible for the spill to notify the public within 24 hours. But business groups challenged a permanent rule and it was tossed out by an administrative law judge who said the department had exceeded its rule-making authority.
A Senate bill that passed its first committee stop this week requires DEP to issue the notification rather than those responsible for the spills.
That’s what Associated Industries of Florida and other industry groups along with utilities pushed for last fall during DEP workshops on the proposed rule.
Those rule opponents said the department is better equipped to assess the health threat of a spill and notify the media rather than utilities, truckers and mom-and-pop size machine shops.
But DEP instead adopted the rule requiring the polluters to notify, which was thrown out by the judge in December.
Senate Bill 532 requires those responsible for a spill to send a notice to the Department of Environmental Protection and says DEP is responsible for notifying the public. The bill requires DEP to publish the notices within 24 hours on a public web site.
The bill unanimously passed its first committee stop on Tuesday with support from Associated Industries of Florida and the Manufacturers Association of Florida, whose board includes Mosaic.
The environmental groups Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida also support the bill. Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen told POLITICO Florida that DEP would be more objective than businesses in notifying the public.
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Republican from Brandenton and bill sponsor, told POLITICO Florida that the governor’s office initially pushed for the responsible party to issue the notification.
“I thought it was better to put it (notification) in the hands of DEP,” Galvano said.
“When we were putting it together we had conversations (with the governor’s office),” the senator said. “I think they have been silent on the issue since then.”
A spokeswoman for the governor’s office didn’t say whether Scott is supporting the bill.
“The governor will review any legislation that makes it to his desk,” spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.
She also didn’t answer the governor is pushing to require responsible parties to issue the notifications. Instead, Schenone emphasized the governor’s support for law changes to notify the public within 24 hours.
“Governor Scott continues to support changes to existing law to ensure the public is kept informed of incidents of pollution that may cause a threat to public health and to Florida’s air and water resources,” Schenone said.