Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency reached a nearly $2 billion settlement with the Florida fertilizer giant, Mosaic — a company the feds accused of improperly handling a mind-blowing 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste.
It’s hard to fathom just how big 60 billion pounds is.
So imagine a pile of waste that weighs as much as the RMS Titanic.
Now multiply that times 600 … all of it potentially hazardous byproducts of phosphate mining that could seep into soil and groundwater.
That’s how much waste we’re talking about, much of it stacked in piles of dirt, sand and acidic wastewater as tall as 500 feet through this state and Louisiana.
The historic settlement was an impressive get.
It also is proof that Florida politicians are corporate toadies — and just plain wrong when it comes to environmental protection.
For the past few years, Gov. Rick Scott and his fellow Cabinet officers have been on a campaign to get the EPA to butt out of Florida’s business.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam actually penned an op-ed a few years ago, titled: “We don’t need the EPA.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi sued the EPA, trying to stop the agency from mandating clean water in the Sunshine State. Gov. Rick Scott argued the same thing.
Yet, while those folks were bellyaching about federal intrusion, the EPA was forcing this state’s $85 billion fertilizer industry to clean up its act.
Theoretically, Florida helped get the settlement. The state was named as a co-plaintiff. And the Justice Department praised the state for helping. But state officials conceded this was the EPA’s initiative. And the EPA announcement didn’t even mention the state in detailing its settlement efforts. Bondi’s office said it played no role.
“I would be very surprised if the state played any meaningful role,” said David Guest, attorney for the environmental group, Earthjustice. “This never would’ve happened without the EPA.”
That’s not surprising. Politicians here more often cozy up with companies than regulate them.
Mosaic cuts checks to candidates from both parties. The company sponsors their summits and political gatherings, including Putnam’s “Fresh from Florida” breakfast at the 2012 Republican National Convention.
In one of the most naked attempts to curry favor, a Mosaic representative was caught a few years ago sauntering into a county fair and paying $10,000 to buy a chocolate cake baked by a little girl — Putnam’s daughter.
The company ultimately apologized and the money was returned. But you get the point.
Way too often, Florida politicians serve as lapdogs to corporations that want to have their way with our environment.
And then they have the gall to fuss about the EPA, saying Florida is perfectly capable of regulating pollution all by itself.
Now you have 60 billion reasons to doubt that.
I started wondering what environmental regulations would look like if it was left solely to the state of Florida — which has decimated its environmental-enforcement agencies statewide.
So I decided to check with Florida’s Environmental Regulations Commission — the body charged with setting the “the standards and rules that protect Floridians and the environment.”
You can sum up this agency’s actions in one word: nonexistent.
The commission hasn’t even met since 2014.
For all of 2015, the commission’s monthly meeting minutes are only: “No meeting.” And the last time it generated any kind of serious headlines was in 2008 under Gov. Charlie Crist, when the agency pushed to crack down on car emissions.
The state has other regulatory agencies and takes other actions. But this agency — charged with protecting “air pollution, water quality and waste management” — is a pretty good (or bad) reflection of environmental protection in Florida.
Listen, nobody wants unnecessary regulations. But I imagine most of you don’t want hazardous phosphate-mining byproducts in your water either.
So now you have a $2 billion reminder about why it’s good to have someone watching over our natural resources … even if the people who run this state don’t want those watchdogs here.