November 23, 2014

Environmental Management

Though it stifles some industries, government regulation tends to stimulate environmental management firms. Generally speaking, the more stringent the regulations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and related agencies, the better the business.

For example, to meet year 2000 deadlines for more stringent emissions standards under the federal Clean Air Act, waste-to-energy facilities will be installing more-efficient smokestack scrubbers. That means business for scrubber suppliers serving Wheelabrator Technologies, Ogden Martin Systems and other operators of waste-to-energy facilities in Florida.

Among other products and services, the state's environmental consulting and engineering firms sell development-impact assessments, habitat surveys, land-use plans, natural resource damage assessments, water quality studies and wetlands-preservation recommendations. Many of their clients are companies that need help in complying with environmental laws such as those protecting air and water quality and endangered species.

The state labor department provides little data on Florida's environmental management industry, so employment trends are difficult to track. But a research, publishing and consulting firm in San Diego, Calif., Environmental Business International Inc. (EBI), estimates that revenues collected in 1994 by Florida's environmental industry came to $9.4 billion, representing about 5.5% of all such revenue in the U.S.

Though EBI expects the revenue of the U.S. environmental management industry to grow 4% a year through the year 2000, not every segment of the industry is expected to prosper. One reason: different approaches to environmental management shift business from one segment of the industry to others. In the field of municipal waste disposal, for example, recycling facilities have gained ground on landfills.

An estimated 40% of municipal waste in Florida was recycled in 1995, up from 14.6% in 1990, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. In conjunction with the trend toward recycling, the number of solid waste landfills in Florida has dropped from roughly 500 in 1980 to about 100 today (not including 272 landfills around the state which accept only construction debris). Incinerators also have become a widely used alternative to landfills. About 22% of municipal waste in Florida was incinerated in 1995, up from 16% in 1990.

Unpredictable government spending on preservation and cleanup programs is an ongoing challenge for environmental management firms. Consider the circumstances of Paul Gruber, president of ERM-South Inc., an environmental consulting firm with 55 employees in offices in Boca Raton, Miami, Tallahassee and Tampa. His firm has worked on 13 of the 54 Florida sites on the National Priority List of the Superfund cleanup program, a federal plan to clean up the nation's worst toxic waste sites. But this portion of ERM-South's business slowed last year, Gruber says, as Congress debated reauthorization of Superfund taxing authority. ERM-South clients who may be responsible for cleanups "don't want to commit today if the rules of the game are going to change tomorrow," Gruber says.

Leaky Storage Tanks
Some Florida companies were jolted last year by a sudden cutoff of state-government funding to protect water supplies from leaky underground storage tanks.

To comply with a 1998 EPA cleanup deadline, the Florida Legislature authorized direct payments to environmental management companies to clean up leaking-tank sites on behalf of landowners. But last year, when the cleanup bills far exceeded the monthly budget of $8 million, Gov. Lawton Chiles suspended payments pending legislative overhaul of the program. The suspension caused a contraction among firms specializing in work with underground storage tanks.

Not all of the money in environmental management comes from cleanups. The prevention of pollution is a big business, too. EBI forecasts that U.S. sales of pollution-prevention equipment will grow 14% annually in the coming years. In a related forecast, EBI says it expects the U.S. hazardous waste management business to decline by 3% annually in the coming years, in part because efforts to prevent pollution have led to a decline in cleanup work.

One company benefiting from that trend is WetCleaning Environmental Technologies, based in Deerfield Beach. It sells an apparel-cleaning system and soaps to dry cleaners, allowing them to minimize their use of a toxic cleaning fluid. Says Andrew Rose, a partner in the company, "There is a hunger out there for cost-effective green technologies."

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