Tallahassee — Governor Rick Scott’s highly touted effort to clean up Florida’s prized freshwater springs from petroleum contamination turns out to be a mirage, according to an analysis by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The overwhelming majority of this program’s funding went to projects not affecting springs or to cleanups with the least environmental impact, leaving the more seriously polluted springs unaddressed.
Florida has at least 1,000 springs – far more than any other state – representing perhaps the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth. In 2013, 2014, and again in 2017, Gov. Scott hyped plans to invest amounts totaling more than $150 million in springs protection.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) assembled a list of 739 contaminated petroleum sites as contributors to spring pollution. PEER’s examination of DEP records reveals:
- Many of the sites on the DEP list are nowhere near a spring and far beyond any likely off-site migration. For example, 17 sites are in Brevard County, even though no springs are listed by DEP in that county. In Gadsden County, home to Chattahoochee Spring in its very northwest corner, the 35 listed sites are located more than 20 miles from the spring itself;
- By contrast, several contaminated sites in close proximity to a spring were not identified as being in a spring-shed site and are not slated for cleanup; and
- Sites selected for the Governor’s springs initiative are of mostly low-priority petroleum sites. The median priority score for selected site was 10. For example, in Baker County , only one site has a priority score of 45. Otherwise, the next highest priority score was 29. In total, only 73 of the 739 sites scored over 13.
“Approximately 90% of the petroleum sites being cleaned up under Scott pose almost no threat to the health of Florida’s citizens or to the environment,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting that much of the funding slated for petroleum cleanup has been diverted for other purposes. “Florida’s ‘worst first’ policy that the most seriously polluted sites go to the head of the remediation line has been stood on its head for purposes of political grandstanding.”
Moreover, Scott’s entire springs initiative is misdirected in that even DEP admits that the principal pollution threat to springs is excessive nutrients, largely from agricultural runoff.
“The Governor’s petroleum initiative is a red herring to draw public attention away from fertilizers, manure, and other ongoing and real threats to Florida’s unique freshwater springs heritage,” added Phillips. “Governor Scott has no intention of expending either the political or fiscal capital to protect springs from their main menace – excessive nutrients.”