Tallahassee — A strategic planning session encouraging Florida environmental officials to “demonstrate your commitment to the Governor’s [Rick Scott’s] vision” succeeded perhaps too well, according to meeting notes released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Managers from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed selling Florida lands to European governments, moving state offices inside parks to save rent and grinding state forests into fuel pellets.
The DEP Strategic Planning Session took place July 12-13, 2011 and was devoted to the topics of “(1) regulatory efficiency and (2) cost reduction” according to the meeting notice (emphasis in original). DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard presided over and participated in the sessions, which produced some truly astonishing schemes according to meeting notes obtained by PEER under Florida’s Public Record Law. They included:
- Marketing the sale of state owned land…to other countries. “* look @some land we simply own, but strategically don’t need…sell it…perhaps keep an env. easement.” One marginal note read ‘“we know Florida, we don’t know Germany’s needs for land”’;
- Move state offices into state parks. In a note attributed to Vinyard “Secretary –we have a lot of land to use w/in state park. Satellite offices?”; and
- “Work w/ Private Sector to build Biomass on State Lands…pellet mills/wood pellets to Eng., Belgium. We are losing business to Georgia. Yes, we have a resource.” The notes also suggested “link it [harvesting] to good stewardship.”
“These guys are supposed to be preserving and protecting Florida’s lands not unloading them to foreign interests,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney, noting the similarity of DEP plans to scams of earlier eras in which Florida swampland was peddled to unsuspecting buyers. “The underlying theme of these planning sessions was that DEP is now supposed to be run like it is a business. The actual proposals indicate that DEP would be run like a business in liquidation.”
Meeting notes describe other ideas such as stricter dress codes to improve “customer service” and creating a “startup program for new business – support w/ staff to give prospective business suggestions.” Though, precisely what expertise DEP staff would provide to new business ventures was not specified.
“If these appalling ideas reflect the brain trust overseeing Florida’s natural resources, heaven help us,” Phillips added. “In two days of meetings, there was not a single suggestion as to how to improve Florida’s environment or better protect resources.”
Secretary Vinyard comes to DEP from a career in the ship-building industry and is currently under EPA investigation for violating conflict-of-interest rules required by the Clean Water Act following a complaint lodged by PEER and the Florida Clean Water Network.