For four months, Florida's environmental regulators have been asking businesses and local governments how much their rules are costing.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has been sending out surveys asking questions like, "What kinds of costs did you incur applying for your industrial wastewater permit?" and, "Would you be required to incur the costs … if not for the permit application and compliance requirements?"
"I've never seen a survey like this before," said Vicki Tschinkel, who ran the DEP's predecessor, the Department of Environmental Regulation, from 1981 to 1987 and now is on the board of 1,000 Friends of Florida.
Florida environmentalists are alarmed by the survey's focus on tabulating the cost of 15 permits that are supposed to protect the environment.
"It looks over the top, like they're saying, 'Give us reasons to reduce regulations in Florida,' " said Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon Florida.
The survey says the DEP is asking these questions because the agency "wishes to better understand the economic impacts our regulations have on permit and license holders."
Actually, the goal is aimed more toward the future, explained DEP press secretary Patrick Gillespie. Under state law, he said, "any time any agency proposes a rule change, it has to calculate whether the proposed rule would have a cost attached to it."
But it can be hard to calculate the cost without knowing the price tag of the current rules, he said.
"The department sent out the survey to regulated businesses to try to collect data for any future proposed rule changes," Gillespie said.
A Tampa Bay Times request to see the results of the survey so far did not yield the names of respondents, but the DEP spreadsheet did show the numbers in various categories.
Since the surveys began going out in August, 72 responses have come back to the DEP. Twenty-five replies came from businesses, 14 from individuals, 17 from counties, seven from cities and nine from other government agencies.
Fifty of them reported that they had obtained permits from the DEP, 43 had gotten state permits from one of the five water management districts, and 16 had gotten permits from city or county governments.
Three types of permits were the most common: Eleven said they had gotten consumptive-use permits for pumping water from the aquifer; 23 said they had received environmental resource permits, issued for filling in wetlands or building docks; and 23 got permits for dealing with stormwater runoff.
Of the 11 that got consumptive-use permits, three identified themselves as power plant owners, and eight said they had spent more than $10,000 fulfilling all the requirements for the permit.
Of the 23 that obtained an environmental resource permit, 17 said they had spent more than $10,000 and five said they had spent more than $5,000. A majority of those who responded to the survey said they wouldn't have spent that much money — on consultants, engineering, biological monitoring and other expenses — if it hadn't been for the permit.
The survey does not ask any questions about the results of those permits, prompting Lee to say, "It suggests a fixation on something that's not part of keeping Florida green."
Craig Pittman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @craigtimes.