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.

Three ways of looking at Florida water resources

Andrew Hill created a national map that colors rivers according to their direction of flow. Click on the figure below to see the entire map, which allows zooming into the Florida section:

Central Florida

Second, we have to thank Jhwum Ki-ak for creating a Google map with locations of the Florida springs identified in FDEP Springs Bulletin 66. Click on the figure below to access that resource:

Centr Fl springs

Third, the Florida DEP spring map, which has many fewer springs but does include links to other information:

Major springs

There are countless other perspectives because water in Florida is important and many-sided.

Hey, you! Want some water money?

Big water users and big water polluters, you know you really oughta take care of your own water problems. That can cost you a bundle, though. How about this idea: the state will offer many of you a loan at a 40% discount off market rates to develop water supply and pollution control systems? That program has been in place for many years.

Not good enough for you, huh? OK, How about this plan: The state will collect a statewide tax on “mortgages, trust deeds, security agreements, or other evidences of indebtedness” and on some “promissory notes, nonnegotiable notes, written obligations to pay money” (Chapter 201, F.S.), centralize that money in Tallahassee, pay some staff to rearrange things a bit, get you to beg for a share, and eventually give some of that cash to you?  I know, I know, that tax has very little to do with the water problems you are causing but money is money,  after all. You gotta work with me on this one. The voters just approved this tax to be used for all kinds of purposes and you can get your cut only if you persuade legislators to go along. Now get to work!