TALLAHASSEE | Legislation that requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to notify the public about pollution incidents has the support of Florida’s business community and environmental groups.

 

The warm reception for Sen. Bill Galvano’s bill, which a committee passed unanimously Tuesday, is a far cry from what the DEP faced when it proposed its own pollution notification guidelines. The DEP rule put the burden on individual businesses to warn the public after a spill and was thrown out by an administrative court judge after a legal challenge.


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Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Senate Bill 532 was his attempt to clear up the process that the DEP tried to implement.

“First and foremost, we wanted to make sure that people who are potentially affected by harmful contaminants are protected and are made aware so they can take steps necessary to get out of harm’s way,” he said. “The rule-making got convoluted, and there was some ambiguity in it.”

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee signed off on the legislation with no debate, and public comment consisted only of groups saying they were in favor of the bill, including the Sierra Club’s Florida Chapter and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“After DEP issued their emergency rule in the fall, without going into great detail, there was a lot of confusion in the business community,” said Nancy Stephens, lobbyist for the Manufacturers Association of Florida. “We feel that this bill as amended today creates the clarity that the business community needs to know.”

The Senate bill must be approved by two other committees before it is eligible for a floor vote. Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has a similar proposal pending review in the House.

Galvano said he included guidelines in the legislation to make it clear to businesses what constitutes a spill requiring public notice. But the burden will be on the DEP to make sure it happens.

“Government has the health, welfare and security of the citizens as a primary goal,” he said. “If the government knows something, they need to be the ones taking the steps.”

Tia Mitchell, (850) 933-1321