Environmental activists across Florida have been waiting more than two years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to land a serious body blow against the state's enforcement branch. The question was whether Herschel Vinyard's place at the top of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection was a violation the Clean Water Act due to his past employment. Now, the federal agency has finally answered the complaint, and the response isn't exactly what Florida's green crowd was hoping for.
See also: - DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard Says He Didn't Lie on Résumé; PEER Not Buying It - EPA Wants to Know if Herschel Vinyard, Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, Lied on His Resume
It all started when Vinyard listed a company on his resume that could of rubbed wrong against a federal statute forbidding 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 permit holders of applicants of a permit."
The original complaint, from 2011, pointed out that on the paperwork Vinyard submitted to the state for his current position, he listed BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards -- known previously as Atlantic Marine Shipyards -- as his primary employer from 1999 to 2011. When the possible conflict-of-interest came to light, Vinyard's attorney said he'd actually only worked for BAE for two weeks after a merger before landing his state gig, meaning he didn't pull a "significant portion" of his income from a permit holder. But last September, DEP responded to the complaint by tweaking the resume, saying Vinyard actually worked for a different company.
On April 26, 2013, the EPA dropped an answer to the petition. They basically said the information in the case was "insufficient," that the corporate fog stemming from various company mash-ups obfuscated the issue -- even though it's pretty clean Vinyard engaged in some ass-covering. But oh, that point is moot, because the EPA waited until the clock was up on a two-year statute of limitation to make a decision. They concluded:
"information is insufficient to determine whether Secretary Vinyard had, at the time of his appointment, a disqualifying conflict of interest....In addition, EPA is denying the Petition at this time due to mootness. The relevant conflict of interest requirements [citations omitted] involve a two-year look-back period... Secretary Vinyard resigned from his former employment on January 14, 2011...Thus, the two-year look-back period ended as of January 14, 2013."
For Jerry Phillips, director of the Florida chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the outcome wasn't too much of a surprise.
"It's always hard to prejudge it, but honestly, when the agency has all the records they were going to get, and they're sitting there not making a decision, it's hard to be optimistic."
The news came as a one-two punch. The EPA also declined to look into a similar complaint filed against Vinyard's number two at DEP, Jeff Littlejohn. That possible conflict was also tied to his previous employment before DEP. But the EPA ruled that "evidence is insufficient" to investigate further.
According to Phillips, the EPA's decisions on both fronts represent an epic -- and troubling -- drop of the ball.
"This give every indication that there is no environmental protection in the state of Florida," he says. "The DEP is not doing it's job, and now we know that we're not having any oversight out of Atlanta [from EPA]."
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.