It is little more and a little less than a footnote to an investigation by the Miami Herald of Miami-Dade police who used funds collected from environmental fines to buy SUV’s, Direct TV receivers, high powered rifles, and Costa del Mar sunglasses among other purchases irrelevant to the fund’s intended purpose.
Back in 2000, I learned that fines collected by the EPA through successful prosecutions of environmental crimes in Miami might be available for environmental purposes. I made an informal inquiry. Could these funds be made available through the EPA or the US Department of Justice as grants to non-profits with chronically underfunded environmental missions? After all, shouldn’t fines collected from environmental law breakers be used to make sure that laws aren’t broken, repeatedly?
I didn’t just fall off a hay bale. I had already spent more than a decade cataloguing the many ways that government is organized to insulate special interests from criminal prosecution. To be caught breaking the law was rare enough. You would have had to be smuggling endangered species in your underwear or strapped to your leg or caught dumping millions of gallons of sewage off the side of your boat.
Government and the lobbyist class is well established to protect and reward those who push to the very edge of the law and in deference to the revolving door between private industry and government service they are more inclined than not to pick up and dust off those standard bearers muddied in the process. I didn’t come to this knowledge reading a book. I came to it in courts of law. I knew, even as I asked, that the premise of my idea– that environmental fines should be collected and granted to non-profits to protect the public interest in clean water, air, and to protect natural resources– was more than a trifle subversive.
Discussions apparently proceeded, and after a certain lengthy period of dead silence I re-inquired. The polite, curt response was nyet.
Now, thanks to the Miami Herald, I know where the money went that couldn’t be trusted to environmental non-profits whose missions qualify for contributions by foundations but not fines collected from crimes committed by private corporations. The money went to an environmental fund created for and administered by local police.
Rather than give the money to Sierra Club to spend on attorneys fighting rock mines in the Everglades and protect the drinking water wells serving 2.2 million residents of Miami-Dade, the funds went to “more than 100 cellphones, Blackberry and Iphone accounts… rising to nearly $14,000 in certain months.” Rather than, to Tropical Audubon Society to protect the county’s Urban Development Boundary, “more than $30,000 for 30 banquet tables and 152 chairs, two high pressure 24-inch misting fans ($2,169.93 each), two portable air conditioning units ($2606 each) and tents. Rather than helping to fund Clean Water Action to investigate cancer clusters in South Florida, “nearly $14,000 for GPS devices, including 21 eTrex Venture handheld GPS, 17 Nuvi 750 Garmin GPS ($399.99 each) and 2 Nuvi 770 Garmin GPS ($699.99 each).
Friends of the Everglades, where I volunteer as conservation chair, recently shut its office because of declining funds. It is OK: our volunteers will continue. We will continue the course of an esteemed organization founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the age of 103. The late daughter of a Miami newspaper publisher, Ms. Douglas spent every waking day extolling the necessity of protecting the Everglades from the worst impulses of people to wreck what sustains them. I know what she would have made of the Miami police using funds collected from environmental crimes to buy “125 computers costing $173,296, including 107 Dell desktops and pricey laptops like Panasonic Toughbooks costing nearly $3,000 each.”
According to the Herald, “Miami-Dade police could not say where the computers are or who they were issued to.”
We could have used that money collected from environmental criminals to help protect the environment, to keep people safe from cancer causing, polluted water but the police beat us to it.