Cabinet dis-appointments

What a mess the Governor and Cabinet made in dismissing the much respected Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. After Cabinet members dozed through the firing of Commissioner Bailey and then a hiring of a new Commissioner, they slowly woke up. Agriculture Commissioner Putnam now says that Cabinet members “were misled.” Attorney General Bondi theorizes that the Governor didn’t know about the firing until it happened. CFO Atwater accepts “my share of responsibility” for not knowing of any “friction.” Naturally, Governor Scott proposes to make this unstable situation worse by creating a formal opportunity every year to fire agency heads. (Many thanks to persistent reporters for getting these almost-kinda explanations.)

Members of the Cabinet are equal legal partners with the Governor in making FDLE Commissioner decisions. They probably have devoted even less attention to the selection and subsequent performance of the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. According to Florida law, Cabinet members have a critical role in that appointment too:

The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three or more members of the Cabinet. The secretary shall be confirmed by the Florida Senate. The secretary shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor. (section 20.255(1), F.S.))

Our neighboring state of Georgia provides at least some protection against their Governor arbitrarily removing the Director of their state Environmental Protection:

The division shall have a director who shall be both appointed and removed by the Board of Natural Resources with the approval of the Governor. The director shall appoint an assistant director of the division. The director and the assistant director shall be qualified professionals, competent in the field of environmental protection. (section 12-2-2(b)(1), Georgia Code).

Note also that the Director of the Georgia EPD must be a “qualified professional.” There are no requirements for who can become the Secretary of the Florida DEP. (I am not at all sure that all past FDEP Secretaries could pass a qualification test.) At any rate, the FDLE fiasco may spill over into broader areas, including environmental protection and water management.

Boldly affirming the status quo

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam gave a talk on water policy last week to the Florida House Committee on State Affairs. He recommended “bold action” but the most remarkable thing about the talk was how little change he advocated. There was no mention of modifying water governance, budgets, or taxation authority. There was no call for pulling back rules, none of the rote calls for a return to the “core mission” of the good old days. Putnam did not recommend a state water board, more long-distance transport of water, seawater desalination, more lawsuits against other states, a changed relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers, or much of anything at all. The need to look at both “water supply” and “water quality” was also boldly affirmed.

Lots of process, though. He told  the committee members that Florida needed a “sound foundation of water policy,” that water policies should be “effectively implemented,” that there should be a “road map,” that “water supply planning should be “scientifically rigorous and timely.” Also that the state should “Go big, go bold, be ambitious, and get it right.”

The state could not go “big” if voters had accepted his recommendation to vote against the Land and Water Amendment. In my view, “boldly” affirming the status quo is a lot better than the recent practice of adopting bad new proposals. Good for Putnam. Committee members asked no questions.

Environmental policy stringency and trust

Is there a relationship between the level of corruption in a state government and the related environmental policies? According to a study published in 2013 by the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the answer is yes. Oguzhan Dincer and Per Fredriksson concluded:

Overall, the robustness analysis indicates that our main results are quite robust. Corruption has a negative effect on environmental policy stringency when the level of trust is low, but this effect decreases and eventually disappears as the level of trust rises.

We find that while corruption reduces the environmental policy stringency in states with low levels of trust, it has little effect on environmental policy stringency in states with high levels of trust. The marginal effect of corruption is greater in the Southern states, given the level of trust. Our research may help explain, for example, why in the late 1970s and early 1980s the state of Florida simultaneously ranked among the top 10 states for all three relevant variables: corruption, trust and environmental policy stringency.

According to Gallup polling in 2014, Florida residents have relatively low levels of trust in state government. There are good reasons to be distrustful.

Less is less

Every year, the Florida Department of Management Services publishes a “Workforce Report.” Last week’s annual report received only a little press coverage. As for a number of years, Florida remains dead last in both state employees per capita and in the cost of state personnel. In fact state government positions have even declined by 10 percent in the last five years.

Would you be pleased to learn that your child’s school has the highest student–teacher ratio? Would you think that having the smallest number of police officers per resident is a good measure of local government success? Would you feel pretty good if you went to a hospital and learned that it had the lowest number of doctors and nurses per patient? Of course not, but that is how many state politicians think. The majority political position seems always to be to cut the number of workers assigned to address Florida problems. That has been the case for the regional water management districts (which are not state workers). It also is true for the state Department of Environmental Protection. That agency has 16.7% fewer workers today than in 2010 (Workforce Report, p. 21.) while population has gone up by 9%.

Environmental protection is inherently labor-intensive. You can’t inspect a lake or river or wetland or spring without going out to look at it. You can’t review a permitted facility for violations without walking around it. You can’t assess the validity of a permit compliance report without experienced staff on board that are allowed adequate time for the review.

Less staff means less protection of Florida water resources.

1948-2015-2082

Much of south Florida water management today is devoted to undoing, or heavily modifying, water management decisions made in 1948 when Harry Truman approved enactment of the Central and Southern Flood Control Project. The project begun 67 years ago has provided substantial flood protection and is the direct predecessor of the state water management system. Project planners recognized that the natural system merited some level of protection:

The basic problem of this area is, therefore, to restore the natural balance between soil and water in this area insofar as possible by establishing protective works, controls, and procedures for conservation and use of water and land. (p. 32)

Like us today, however, the local-regional-state-federal project designers were bound by the limits of their knowledge and vision. What will Floridians 67 years from now think of the water management activities of 2015? They will have a clear sense of this year’s water mistakes. I imagine five primary threads of 2082 historical water consciousness:

  • The Floridians of 2082 will not understand, and cannot forgive, the inattention paid in 2015 to the causes of climate change.
  • They will have the same feeling about the biological degradation fostered by the poorly-controlled import of non-native species.
  • They will be mystified why Floridians failed to impose a general charge for water and thereby induced so much damage to water resources.
  • They will be appalled by how much water was used in 2015 to irrigate landscape plants.
  • They will be appreciative of every acre set aside in land acquisition programs.