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Gov. Ron DeSantis’ environmental fine is a stick. Now where’s the carrot? | Editorial

Raise environmental fines for local governments and companies, but also help communities rebuild their infrastructure.
Signs posted at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park in September 2016 warned people to stay out of the water due to contamination from sewage released by the city's sewer system after it was overwhelmed by Hurricane Hermine. [Times staff]
Signs posted at St. Petersburg's North Shore Park in September 2016 warned people to stay out of the water due to contamination from sewage released by the city's sewer system after it was overwhelmed by Hurricane Hermine. [Times staff]
Published Sep. 13, 2019
Updated Sep. 13, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis has the right idea in proposing an increase in environmental fines. It shouldn’t be cheaper for companies and local governments to violate the law and pay fines than to upgrade their facilities to stop spills and polluting in the first place. But the state also should provide more assistance to local communities upgrading their infrastructure - and it certainly shouldn’t stand in the way of local solutions.

DeSantis announced this week he wants the Legislature to increase fines for environmental crimes by 50 percent across the board, from sewage spills to releases of hazardous waste. The governor said he wanted to get the attention of polluters who had not taken these fines seriously enough in the past to change their practices or upgrade their operations. And the example he made of a city in “the Tampa Bay area” was an apparent (and justified) shot at St. Petersburg and its long-running wastewater problem. Still, this is a welcome wake-up call for government and industry alike.

The state, though, needs to pair tougher punishment with stronger financial support for communities struggling to rebuild their infrastructure. While the state has grant and loan programs, those funds come nowhere close to meeting statewide needs; Tampa alone just approved a $3 billion plan to rebuild its water and wastewater systems. And the Legislature has moved to block a locally approved transportation tax in Hillsborough County that could free up tens of millions of dollars for water and sewer improvements. The stick should be accompanied by some carrots.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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