This summer, more than 215 million gallons of wastewater poured into the Floridan Aquifer when a sinkhole opened up at the Mosaic fertilizer plant in Polk County.
Also this summer, Hurricane Hermine flushed tens of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay.
Governor Rick Scott swung into action with an emergency rule forcing polluters to notify the public within 24 hours of a major spill. But last week an administrative law judge sided with business groups and said Scott had no legal authority to act.
Republican Representative Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena says she’s working on legislation to fix that.
“Because that’s the goal and I know that’s the governor’s goal to ensure that there’s transparency and that the citizens have the opportunity to protect themselves if they need to.”
The heavy hitter of the Tallahassee lobby corps, Associated Industries of Florida, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Florida Retail Federation, fought to kill the emergency rule. They argued it would force convenience store owners to call a press conference every time a customer overfilled a gas tank.
Peters says she’s still working on thresholds for triggering public notice, and what the warning should say. But she thinks boil water notices are a good model.
“It’s amazing how when a water main breaks the media is reporting on that so quickly. And it seems to be quite seamless. And so can’t we get the same kind of system on a spill if it’s a health issue so that we can get the word out quickly.”
NFIB Florida executive director Bill Herrle said small business owners had a lot of concerns about the emergency rule. A diesel mechanic, Herrle says, isn’t always going to be the best interpreter of toxic thresholds.
Florida Retail Federation spokesman James Miller agrees, saying business owners would much rather notify regulators and leave the public relations to someone else. “We feel that DEP, they’re the experts in this kind of situation. And they’re the ones that know the appropriate media to call and they’re the ones that have the best examples of getting this information out to the locals in an area.”
However, Miller and Herrle insist they’re not opposed to the legislation. Herrle says he’s eager to help sponsors craft the language.
Legislative process as resulting in better public policy than just letting a state agency have a go at it.”
And that’s what worries Clean Water Network activist Linda Young the most. She’s afraid business interests will water down the legislation until it’s practically meaningless. A “may” instead of a “shall,” could make all the difference in the world, Young says.
“If this legislation is going to be meaningful, if it’s going to be protective and it’s going to accomplish what the public would like to have in place, there’s going to have to be very, very close scrutiny of every word.”
Governor Scott can be expected to do just that with every bill that crosses his desk. read more
Back in September, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued an emergency rule that would require businesses responsible for instances of pollution to notify the state and the public about those instances on an expedited timeline. Under the emergency rule, notification is required to the DEP and to local government officials and the media.
DEP is now in the process of passing a final rule to address pollution notification. Below is the revised proposed rule:
Positive changes have been made to the rule. The rule is now more clear about what amounts of pollutants trigger the notification requirements. But the rule still raises concerns about the cost to business and the potential for ineffective and inaccurate information being shared with the public. We believe the DEP should be the central clearinghouse for the notification of pollution.
We are submitting our comments to the DEP to encourage further changes to the rule. Please share this rule within your companies and let us know what concerns you have. If you have real-life examples regarding how this could negatively impact your business, please share those with us so that we can educate the DEP about the impact of this rule.
Comments will only be received by the state agency up until 5:00 pm on Wednesday, November 9, so please get back with us as soon as you are able. We appreciate your input.
Below is the Emergency Rule that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued regarding notification of pollution. The Emergency Rule as drafted creates questions about when notification is required. We are working with DEP to clear up these questions. We recognize and agree with the necessity of prompt notification of pollution. Our businesses, our communities and our state are best served when pollution is quickly and completely addressed and its harm is minimized or eliminated. We want to make sure our member businesses are fully compliant without creating unnecessary burdens for local officials and needless concern for citizens. As we receive more detailed information from DEP, we will share this information with you.
Notice of Emergency Rule
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
RULE NO.: 62ER16-1
RULE TITLE: Public Notice of Pollution
SPECIFIC REASONS FOR FINDING AN IMMEDIATE DANGER TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH, SAFETY OR WELFARE: In a "Specific Finding of Immediate Danger to the Public Health, Safety, or Welfare," which was published on the date of this emergency rule (available at www.dep.state.fl.us/pollutionnotice) and filed with the Secretary of State's Office, Secretary Steverson found that there is a need to immediately require specific notification to the public of any incident or discovery of pollution that may cause a threat to the air, surface waters, or groundwater of the state. These circumstances present an immediate hazard to public health, safety, or welfare which requires emergency action.
REASON FOR CONCLUDING THAT THE PROCEDURE IS FAIR UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES: Prompt notification to the public is necessary regarding any incident or discovery of pollution that may cause a threat to the air, surface waters, or groundwater of the state such that public health could be at risk. The Secretary will commence rulemaking procedures for the emergency rule immediately.
SUMMARY: The provisions of the action provide a requirement that owners and operators of any installation provide notifications to the Department, local government officials, and the public whenever there is an incident or discovery of pollution at an installation within 24 hours. In addition, the owner and operator would be required to provide a subsequent notice within 48 hours that describes any potentially affected areas beyond the property boundary of the installation, and the potential risk to public health, safety, or welfare. The owners and operators are required to notify the Department, local government officials, and the property owner within 24 hours of becoming aware that pollution from an installation has affected areas beyond the property boundaries of the installation.
THE PERSON TO BE CONTACTED REGARDING THE EMERGENCY RULE IS: Robert A. Williams, Chief Deputy General Counsel, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS-35 Tallahassee, FL 32399
THE FULL TEXT OF THE EMERGENCY RULE IS:
62ER16-01Public Notice of Pollution
Any owner or operator of any installation who has knowledge of any pollution at such installation shall provide notice of the pollution as follows:
(1)Within 24 hours of the occurrence of any incident at an installation resulting in pollution, or the discovery of pollution, the owner or operator shall notify the Departmentand the following persons, in writing, of such pollution:
(a)The mayor, the chair of the county commission, or the comparable senior elected official representing the affected area.
(b)The city manager, the county administrator, or the comparable senior official representing the affected area.
(c)The general public by providing notice to local broadcast television affiliates and a newspaper of general circulation in the area of the contamination.
(2)Within 48 hours of the occurrence of any incident at an installation resulting in pollution, or the discovery of pollution, the owner or operator shall notify the Department and persons identified in (1)(a) through (1)(c), in writing, of any potentially affected areas beyond the property boundaries of the installation, and the potential risk to the public health, safety, or welfare.
(3)Within 24 hours of becoming aware of pollution from an installation that has affected areas beyond the property boundaries of the installation, the owner or operator shall notify, in writing, the property owner of any affected area, the Department, and the persons identified in (1)(a) through (1)(b).
(5)Failure to provide this notification shall be considered a violation and subject to penalties for purposes of Section 403.161, Florida Statutes.
Rulemaking Authority 377.22(2), 403.061(7), 403.061(8), 403.062, 403.855(1), 403.861(9) FS. Law Implemented 377.21, 377.371, 403.061(16), 403.061(17), 403.061(18), 403.062, 403.855(3), 403.861(9) FS. History-New 9-26-16.
THIS RULE TAKES EFFECT UPON BEING FILED WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE UNLESS A LATER TIME AND DATE IS SPECIFIED IN THE RULE.
EFFECTIVE DATE: 09/26/2016