After nearly four months of waiting, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection finally responded to a federal inquiry into whether Secretary Herschel Vinyard lied on his résumé.
He didn't, according to a letter from the DEP's legal team obtained by New Times. Rather, his employment history is just really hard to follow because it's muddled up by the complex world of mergers and acquisitions.
But there's a problem, critics say. The company Vinyard is now claiming he worked for before coming to the DEP isn't listed on the résumé he submitted for the gig, nor is it mentioned in the questionnaire he submitted to Gov. Rick Scott's office as part of the application process.
"Frankly, the letter is five pages of obfuscation," says Jerry Phillips, director of the Florida chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "You have to read it several times just to get the gist of what they're saying."
Last year, Phillips and colleagues filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency suggesting that Vinyard was violating a clause within the Clean Water Act. The argument was that the Clean Water Act bars
"the appointment of any state decision-maker on pollution discharge permits in federal quality water programs who has during the previous two years received a significant portion of his income directly or indirectly from permits holders or applicants of a permit."
To support the allegation, Phillips submitted a copy of Vinyard's résumé and the questionnaire Vinyard completed for the governor's office. On his résumé, Vinyard has listed Bae Systems Southeast Shipyards as his past employer for nearly a decade. The résumé notes that Bae Systems Southeast Shipyards was formerly known as Atlantic Marine Shipyards.
When the allegations against Vinyard first surfaced, DEP's counsel contended that Atlantic Marine Shipyards was acquired by Bae only a few weeks before Vinyard left to take up his post at DEP; thus, he didn't earn a significant portion of his income from the company or work there for very long.
But now, according to the most recent letter from DEP's legal team, Vinyard actually worked for a company called Classic Act, which it asserts was never a permit holder or applicant.
Phillips isn't buying it.
"His résumé doesn't show any mention of Classic Act," Phillips says. "They're denying that [Vinyard] worked for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards, a company that he swore under oath that he worked for. Neither the application or résumé show any mention of Classic Act. The letter he sent to the EPA does not include any proof of where he in fact worked."
Phillips says he's continuing to investigate Vinyard's employment history, as well as whether any of the companies held environmental permits.
Vinyard isn't the only DEP honcho under scrutiny for industry ties.
Just last month, PEER submitted another complaint alleging that Jeff Littlejohn
, the number-two man at DEP, is also violating the same clause of the Clean Water Act. Littlejohn, whose father owns a powerful lobbying firm that caters to companies with environmental interests, walked directly from a private engineering firm to the offices of DEP. It's unclear whether the EPA will open an investigation into that matter.