Tallahassee —Governor Rick Scott’s top two environmental appointments have industry ties that render them unfit to serve in their positions under federal law, according to a legal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Florida Clean Water Network. One appointee heads Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) while the other runs the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which is supposed to combat sprawl and the pollution associated with it.
At issue is a section of the federal Clean Water Act which bars appointment of any state decision-maker on pollution discharge permits in federally delegated and financed water quality programs who “has during the previous two years received a significant portion of his income directly or indirectly from permit holders or applicants for a permit.” In a petition for enforcement filed today, the two groups ask U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to apply this prohibition against the following two recent Florida appointments by Gov. Scott:
- Herschel Vinyard as DEP Secretary. Immediately prior to his appointment Vinyard served as the director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards where he was involved in its permits for its treated wastewater as well as its other regulatory affairs. He was also the chairman of the Shipbuilders Council of America, representing 40 companies operating 100 shipyards; and
- Billy Buzzett as DCA Secretary, where he reviews and approves development plans that serve as a partial basis for DEP to approve or deny stormwater and other discharge permits. Prior to his appointment, Buzzett was Vice President of Strategic Planning for the St. Joe Company, a development company with vast holdings of private land throughout Florida. As part of its ongoing development efforts the company has had numerous pollution discharge permits.
“This law exists because Congress did not want our national clean water safety net co-opted by corporate infiltration,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “These key jobs require people unquestionably dedicated to the public interest rather than to business interests which profit by weakening that safety net.”
EPA has a range of options open to it if it finds the violation as cited by the groups. Assuming that the two appointees do not step down, EPA could withhold Clean Water grants or other financial assistance to the state, including funding which supports Florida’s water permitting system. Alternately, EPA could revoke Florida’s delegation to issue permits, thereby federalizing permit issuance and enforcement.
“Governor Scott seems to relish thumbing his nose at the federal government,” said Linda Young, Director of the Florida Clean Water Network. “That’s great theatrics, but we the taxpayers have a right to the protections that are promised to all Americans. I’m hoping that the new Governor was not aware of this requirement and will want to immediately make more appropriate appointments.”