Florida Environment Secretary Plays Shell Game with EPA
Last Minute Attempt to Rewrite Vinyard Résumé to Avoid Federal Debarment
Tallahassee — Florida’s top environmental official is disavowing his official résumé and previous sworn statements to escape being stripped of enforcement powers by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to a filing today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Florida Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Herschel Vinyard, claims that he never worked for companies holding environmental permits, including one for which he has been listed as a director and vice-president for five of the previous 13 years.
This exchange will determine whether Vinyard will be barred by EPA from handling water pollution matters as the result of a federal conflict-of-interest complaint filed by PEER and the Florida Clean Water Network. 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.”
On April 27, 2012, EPA asked Secretary Vinyard to explain why he should not be debarred due to his prior employment by BAE Systems Southeast Shipyard, a major defense contractor, whose subsidiaries and related companies have water pollution permits. More than four months later in a letter dated August 29, 2012, DEP General Counsel Thomas Beason responded that Vinyard never worked for BAE, despite the fact that the company is listed on his résumé on file with the Governor’s office and in Vinyard’s own sworn declaration to the state Senate in which he stated that he worked for the company for 13 years.
Instead, Vinyard asserts that he worked for another company, artfully named “Classic Act” L.L.C., which was never listed on his application or résumé. It has no Clean Water Act permits on record. Significantly, Classic Act is “no longer doing business in Florida and its current status as a Delaware organized company is unknown,” according to Beason. In other words, Vinyard’s previous employer has vanished.
“If Herschel Vinyard is now saying that he has no experience working on pollution permits then he was appointed and confirmed as DEP Secretary under false pretenses,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, noting that in his resume Vinyard represented himself as director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards where he was responsible for its wastewater permits and other regulatory affairs. “In reality, Mr. Vinyard appears to be desperately and disingenuously distancing himself from special interest ties which disqualify him from his job.”
While Vinyard now says that he worked for another company, that company and all the companies in this convoluted corporate web shared the same mailing address. PEER also found Department of State records showing that Vinyard failed to disclose his ties to yet another BAE-related company which appointed him to its Board of Directors from 2002 through 2008. Today, PEER submitted these new records and a detailed rebuttal of the new Vinyard explanation to EPA.
“Like so many politicians today, Mr. Vinyard has figured out that there are no adverse consequences for lying your way into power,” said Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network. “Apparently, if you know the right people, can do the handshake and say the magic words, then you can operate above the law in that special place reserved for crooked politicians and their lapdogs.”
The two groups last month filed a similar complaint against Vinyard’s top deputy, Jeff Littlejohn, the DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, who specialized in environmental and marine permitting for an engineering firm where he served as vice-president for ten years prior to his appointment at DEP.