1. Opinion

Editorial: Telling public about pollution

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Published May 5, 2017

Here's a modest step toward letting Floridians know when they could be at risk from a sewage spill or other major pollution threat. The Legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott a bill requiring the owner or operator of the source of the pollution to notify the state within 24 hours and the state to tell the public within 24 hours of the notification. It's not perfect, but it's a start.

The legislation, SB 1018, was triggered by two high-profile incidents last year where the public was left in the dark about serious pollution threats. In St. Petersburg, the city failed to promptly report last summer that millions of gallons of sewage spilled into Tampa Bay and some streets. In Polk County, the public did not learn for nearly three weeks that a sinkhole had opened up at a Mosaic phosphate facility and dumped millions of gallons of tainted water into the aquifer. In either case, there is no excuse that the public was not promptly and widely notified.

To his credit, the governor ordered companies and local governments last fall to promptly notify the public of such incidents. Unfortunately, an administrative law judge ruled only the Legislature could require such notifications. And in Tallahassee, nothing is simple.

Instead of requiring private companies and local governments to directly notify the public, the legislation outlines a two-step process. The owner or operator of the source of the incident would be required to notify the Department of Environmental Protection within 24 hours. DEP then will have 24 hours to post the notice on a public website and send it to anyone who subscribes by email for notifications, including the media and the general public.

It's clunky, but it's better than not knowing at all.