Washington, DC — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection
screened a key enforcement supervisor for promotion on the basis of his campaign
contributions, according to documents released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency also directed the supervisor
to interview with a prominent Republican political contributor as part of his
selection process. Shortly after the supervisor was promoted, pollution enforcement
actions against a landfill managed by that contributor abruptly stopped.
PEER is requesting a criminal investigation by the States Attorneys in Tallahassee
and Pensacola into political contributions and connections influencing state
environmental enforcement and personnel decisions.
“Politics are polluting Florida’s environmental agency,”
stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for
Florida DEP, noting that under “reforms” enacted at the request
of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, top agency officials now have almost unlimited
discretion in hiring and firing supervisors and managers. “Campaign contributions
appear to be the coin of the realm inside state government.”
Records obtained by PEER under Florida’s Sunshine Law show that state
DEP managers requested a printout on the past political contributions of Henry
Hernandez while considering whether to promote him to serve as the Environmental
Administrator for the agency’s Panama City Field Office. In fact, the
printout showing Hernandez’s campaign contributions in Florida’s
2002, General Election, as well as to the 2003 Special Election for Senate District
26 and House District 30 were maintained as part of his official personnel file.
Prior to his being approved for this promotion, DEP administrators asked Hernandez
to interview with William Gerald Harrison, Jr. over lunch. Harrison is a prominent
Panama City attorney, a registered lobbyist for the St. Joe Company, a member
of Governor Jeb Bush’s 1998-1999 transition team and a member of President
George W. Bush’s transition team in 2000-2001. Harrison was also on the
Board of Directors for Big Wheel Recycling, Inc., a Bay County landfill operator
under investigation by Hernandez’s predecessor who resigned in December
After approving Hernandez’s promotion, DEP moved to forego enforcement
against the Big Wheel facility. In ignoring the specific findings of prior inspections,
the agency violated its own procedures and continued a pattern of complete non-enforcement
at the troubled site.
“Where there is smoke there is usually fire and it is getting pretty
smoky up here,” added Phillips. Attempts by PEER to find out if campaign
contributions of other DEP supervisors were scrutinized by agency officials
have been blocked.