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Legal Department
Services
The Legal Department provides the following services:
  • Assists the regulatory divisions with enforcement and permitting challenges
  • Handles agency-wide public records requests, and analyzes and comments on legislation and rulemaking.
  • Litigates
  • Responds to Commissioners’ legal questions
  • Reviews contracts, MOUs, and agreements

Administrative proceedings

Administrative proceedings can be requested as a result of a disputed citation, NOV, or permitting decision. Usually, administrative proceedings are less time consuming and less expensive than civil litigation. The proceedings, similar to a civil trial, are typically held before a commission-appointed hearing officer or a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings' (DOAH) Administrative Law Judge. The provisions of Chapter 1-2, Rules of the commission, set out the various procedures that apply. The Legal Department defends the actions of the agency in administrative proceedings requested by others when challenging a permitting or enforcement decision. 

Exceptions
However, there are occasions when an administrative proceeding before another agency is requested by the Legal Department on behalf of the commission or its executive director to challenge that agency's decision. As part of the EPC intergovernmental coordination with Hillsborough County via the Water Resource Services department, the EPC works closely with local governments, the Water Management District, and Tampa Bay Water to ensure sound water supply projects do not impact the environment. In an effort to expedite water supply related disputes, the EPC and the county may arbitrate certain permits applied for by Tampa Bay Water.

Litigation

In addition to administrative processes, the commission and the executive director are authorized by the Enabling Act to file a civil suit in court to enforce compliance with its Act and regulations. Settlement prior to litigation frequently results in achieving compliance more rapidly and less costly than can be expected through litigation. The EPC may consider settlement after the commencement of litigation, typically through a Consent Final Judgment, but the costs increase considerably if the EPC is forced to litigate. Additionally, enforcement can be undertaken jointly with the other regulatory agencies, such as the DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPC is also a participating member of the Tampa Bay Environmental Crimes Task Force. This task force brings together local, state, and federal regulatory or law enforcement agencies with state and federal prosecutors for the purpose of investigating and prosecuting environmental crimes.

Enforcement

Compliance
Failure to comply with environmental regulations impacts the resources of the county and its citizens. Enforcement of regulations in a manner designed to bring about immediate and continued compliance with EPC's Enabling Act and rules is essential. Enforcement activities can be administrative proceedings or civil actions before a court of competent jurisdiction. Compliance can also be compelled through the prosecution of environmental crimes, and although the EPC Legal Department does not prosecute these crimes, it serves as an agency liaison with law enforcement and prosecutors. 

Procedures
Standard enforcement procedures involve identification of a possible problem, and communication with the responsible party to determine the facts. Where correction occurs promptly, many times further enforcement action is usually not necessary. Warning Notices or warning letters are often sent to the responsible party to be certain that they are aware of the concern and given an opportunity to correct it. 

Settlements
Often, a case can be resolved through a negotiated settlement (e.g. - Consent Order, Short Form Consent Order, etc.) specifying the corrections that are agreed upon, a time frame for implementing them, and provisions to recover agency enforcement costs, along with a monetary settlement in lieu of a civil penalty. Settlement payments are made to the Pollution Recovery Fund. The Enabling Act provides for civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation per day and Chapter 403 provides for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation per day. Where settlement cannot be agreed upon, the Executive Director is responsible for pursuing civil law suits or issuing a Citation or a Notice of Violation, which is a formal administrative finding of violation.

Resources
View EPC and DEP Penalty Guidelines and Matrices (Please contact EPC staff for the most up to date guidelines and matrices, as they are subject to change by the EPC or DEP).