Tallahassee — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to decide which Herschel Vinyard to believe – the one who claimed his expertise in handling pollution permits as his chief qualification to serve as Florida’s top environmental official or the one who is now alleging, through a state lawyer, he had nothing to do with permits. At stake is whether he will be barred from handling water pollution matters as the result of a federal conflict-of-interest complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Florida Clean Water Network.
The groups today released the latest correspondence from EPA questioning why information on Vinyard’s résumé and state job application, and even the Governor’s press release announcing his appointment as Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), are all incorrect, as Vinyard now declares. The April 27, 2012 letter from EPA Regional Counsel Mary Wilkes asks Thomas Beason, the General Counsel for DEP, which Vinyard oversees, to “explain the apparent discrepancy between the assertion in your letter” that Vinyard was not really employed by the company he said he worked for in state filings or doing work he once bragged about but now disclaims.
The federal Clean Water Act forbids appointment of any state decision-maker on pollution discharge permits in federal 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” (emphasis added). Vinyard represented himself as director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards where he was responsible for its wastewater permits and other regulatory affairs. He also chaired the Shipbuilders Council of America, representing 40 companies operating 100 shipyards.
“Secretary Vinyard should stop wasting state resources playing peek-a-boo with the EPA. His ploy that he is not in clear violation of federal law because he lied on his job application is just plain absurd,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting that Governor Scott should fire him if he falsified his application. “By using state lawyers to dissemble on his behalf, Mr. Vinyard is only making a bad situation worse.”
The next move may aggravate the jeopardy for Secretary Vineyard, as making false official statements to a federal agency is a crime which could result in loss of office and imprisonment, sanctions far more serious than those he now faces. Unfortunately, EPA has not moved swiftly to resolve the February 2011 complaint, despite one promise last November to render a final decision “within two weeks.”
“Mr. Vinyard is making decisions that affect our waters every day, and most if not all of his decisions over the past 15 months have reflected a pro-polluter bias,” said Linda Young, Director of the Florida Clean Water Network. “As a regular user of our waters I am personally so unimpressed with our state and federal government’s level of concern over Vinyard’s disregard for the law that I think a citizens’ arrest is now in order.”
See the original PEER/FCWN petition