PEER Frets Over DEP Layoffs, Says More Cuts Likely

A recent round of job cuts at the Department of Environmental Protection has stoked the wrath of environmentalists. 

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Wednesday issued a statement blasting the DEP's decision to lay off 26 employees from the agency's Southwest District Office while eliminating 14 vacant positions. 

"These are nonmanagement employees," Jerry Phillips, Florida coordinator for PEER, tells New Times. "They're the ones inspecting facilities, reviewing permits, determining if facilities are in compliance. Essentially, they're the ones that make the organization run."

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Over the past year, PEER has launched numerous attacks on the DEP, one of which resulted in a federal investigation over whether DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard lied on his résumé. But the latest round of job cuts leaves a particularly sour taste in the nonprofit's mouth. 

PEER says one of the employees was laid off while he was away on active duty for the U.S. Coast Guard. "That's just cold," Phillips says. 

While Phillips argues that the layoffs significantly weaken the agency's ability to enforce its own rules, the DEP insists the restructuring was well-planned and won't have any negative impact on the agency as a whole. 

"The Department's staffing changes were based on months-long assessments of procedures and processes as well as staffing and workload levels," DEP spokesman Patrick Gillespie told New Times in an email. "The process has included thoughtful assessments designed to implement measures that increase the effectiveness of reaching our core mission of protecting environmental and human health. No programs or core functions have been eliminated and our level of service will not be compromised."

Phillips expects things are only going to get worse and says the DEP could shed more positions in the coming year. West Palm Beach and Orlando are among the areas Phillips says could see reductions. 

"This is just the beginning," he says.