Bradenton state Sen. Bill Galvano is no stranger to writing common sense legislation requiring companies and public officials to warn residents when contamination endangers the public water supply.
Today, Galvano is drafting legislation to strengthen notification regulations in response to the misconduct displayed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic, the planet’s largest phosphate company. For more than three weeks, neither one told the public about the 215 million gallons of polluted water that drained into the Florida aquifer from a massive sinkhole at a phosphate facility in Polk County. Mosaic did inform the DEP promptly, but then public notice did not occur immediately.
In another disturbing case, well over 100 million gallons of partially treated sewage escaped from the St. Petersburg’s aging wastewater treatment plant and polluted Tampa Bay, but city officials delayed reporting the release.
Those two high-profile episodes prompted Gov. Rick Scott to impose an emergency rule dictating that the owners or operators of a facility about pollution releases notify DEP, local governments and the general public within 24 hours. Incredibly, DEP defended its decision by arguing state law only required the agency or the polluting company to warn the public when contamination spreads outside the source’s property. Scott had the proper sense of urgency and ordered the new rule.
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But that justifiable rule was nullified by an administrative law judge 11 days ago. The ruling stated DEP had exceeded its authority by approving the decree, usurping the state Legislature’s power to enact laws.
Galvano already had the issue on his radar again after the Mosaic event.
In 2005 as a member of the Florida House, he filed legislation that set specific notification measures and quality assurance protocols in the aftermath of the pollution scandal that rocked the small Tallevast neighborhood in Manatee County. For years, residents of the African-American community were not warned about the toxic waste in their water. The House and the Senate unanimously passed Galvano’s bill, and several Tallevast residents traveled to Tallahassee to join then-Gov. Jeb Bush when he signed the legislation into law.
In a September guest column in the Herald, Galvano signaled renewed interest, writing, “Next session, the Legislature can certainly consider codifying current practices into law as well as further tightening the current time frame. The suffering of the Tallevast community will not be forgotten and we will work diligently to make certain our citizens are aware of any potential threat to their water supply.”
Today, Galvano and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, are crafting legislation with the assistance of the governor’s office that will adopt the goals Scott intended to implement with his emergency rule — thereby solving this controversial issue. Tougher regulations are vital given the secrecy currently employed. The DEP, local governments, the public and the state should all be notified quickly, with a new law specifically setting a timetable. Polluters should be fined for delaying notification, thus compelling compliance. Public health should not be put at risk.
But powerful interests could stand in the way. Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Trucking Association and the National Federation of Independent Business fought the governor’s emergency rule and won. The business organizations should be part of the solution and work with the Legislature and governor on reasonable requirements.