Over the objections of advisers, Gov. Lawton Chiles decided Friday to allow a controversial bill to become law even though it grants state pollution cleanup money to petroleum dealers who have violated major environmental rules. Chiles said that too many valuable environmental initiatives would have to die if he vetoed the omnibus bill. Instead, Chiles said he would allow the bill to become law without his signature.
He vowed to try to correct the problems next year.
The provision for cleanup money was added to the bill in an end-of-session amendment in the House of Representatives. Some environmentalists were outraged by the measure, in part because one of the lawmakers who originally pushed for it, state Rep. Chuck Smith, D-Brooksville, is an oil jobber whose business could benefit from it, according to state officials.
This week, Carol Browner, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER), recommended that Chiles kill the whole bill rather than agree to the cleanup payments. Chiles said he agreed with her concern, but could not justify vetoing the bill.
"I am as concerned as the secretary is about the overly permissive language dealing with reimbursement for cleanup of pollution caused by underground (petroleum) tanks," Chiles said in a written statement Friday.
"In order to address the issue of storage tanks effectively .
. I have asked the secretary and legislative leaders to do a complete review of this program and to draft legislation for 1992 that will correct these and all other problems with this law."
Chiles noted that the bill includes several measures that DER wanted. It establishes a pollution prevention council comprising the heads of several state agencies. The bill also contains increases in fees worth about $4-million that the agency said it needed.
Browner did not return a call Friday.
Smith, the Brooksville legislator, originally introduced provisions that were similar to the amendment that was adopted. After the St. Petersburg Times disclosed the potential benefit to him, he announced that he would no longer vote on it.
On Friday evening, Smith said he was pleased. "Smart governor," he said.
Smith said that as far as he knows, the bill will not have any effect on his situation. But DER officials have said the bill could benefit Smith by allowing him to collect reimbursement money for cleanup of underground petroleum contamination that is suspected to exist at his business. Such cleanups are required by law when contamination is discovered.
Cleanup of underground petroleum pollution typically costs upwards of $200,000. If reimbursement money is denied, dealers have to pay those costs themselves.
Last spring, DER denied Smith's original application for state cleanup money because agency officials said his petroleum wholesaling business had failed to comply with major pollution rules.
The new law will allow DER to grant reimbursement money to a dealer who has committed violations if the dealer can show good-faith efforts to comply.
"There were just so many good things in this bill that it needed to be law," Smith said. "It's not the Chuck Smith Relief Bill."