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Environment

Florida Should Come Down Harder On Environmental Crimes, Report Says

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Julio Ochoa
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WUSF Public Media
Wastewater spills from sewage plants have been an ongoing issue in the greater Tampa Bay region for years.

Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties spilled more than nine million gallons of wastewater from sewage plants in 2020.

Florida isn't doing enough to punish polluters, according to a new environmental report.

In 2020, Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties spilled more than nine million gallons of wastewater from sewage plants, with five million gallons flowing into area waters.

The report from Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, shows many polluters in the state are not fined and even when they are, only 36 percent of the fines are collected.

"It's not a good situation,” said Jerry Phillips, PEER's director. “It means that the public and tourists continue to be exposed to various types of pollutants that are being discharged by polluters with not very much being done to penalize them."

The report said the number and size of the sewage discharges suggest the state's facilities are in bad need of repairs and upgrades.

But, in general, the state was more lenient with municipalities that oversee the wastewater treatment facilities, Phillips said.

“So basically, it was pretty much a hands-off attitude by the department towards those facilities, which are the facilities that discharge into water bodies, like rivers, streams, lakes, and so forth," Phillips said. "So overall, not a good outcome.”

The Department of Environmental Protection disagreed with the findings of the report. Alexandra Kuchta, a spokeswoman for the department, wrote that a 2020 law had increased fines on environmental crimes and that the state's compliance rate is at 94 percent.

“Governor DeSantis has made very clear his expectations that Florida's environmental laws are enforced, and the department is committed to carrying out that directive,” she wrote.

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