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Two Groups Want DEP Secretary Vinyard Disqualified Under Federal Rule

Floridas top environmental official contends that the federal Clean Water Act conflict-of-interest disqualification does not apply to him, but two environmental groups are calling him on it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is deciding whether Herschel Vinyard, secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, must recuse himself from all water permit and standards actions because of his ties to industry.

On Feb. 23, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Florida Clean Water Network filed a complaint with EPA requesting that Vinyard be barred from making any decisions on pollution discharge permits in federally delegated and financed water quality programs. The groups cited a provision barring individuals who have during the previous two years received a significant portion of [their] income directly or indirectly from permit holders or applicants for a permit.

The complaint noted Vinyards tenure as director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards, where he was involved in its permits for its treated wastewater as well as its other regulatory affairs. He was also the chairman of the Shipbuilders Council of America, representing 40 companies operating 100 shipyards.

In an April 8 letter, EPA Regional Counsel Mary Wilkes wrote that if the groups contentions are correct, Vinyard would have to create an irrevocable delegation of water quality duties to another state official for at least two years.

In a May 2 reply to EPA, DEP General Counsel Thomas Beason argued that Vinyards direct regulatory experience was not of sufficiently great duration or depth.Beason asserted that Vinyard was employed with BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards AMHC, Inc. only for the two-week period during which Gov. Rick Scott appointed Vinyard to head the DEP.

In a May 20 rebuttal, PEER and Florida Clean Water Network detailed Vinyards extensive direct involvement with permit matters, and called the DEP response a clear effort to rewrite history.

Governor Scott picked Vinyard precisely because of his industry record -- a record that disqualifies him to oversee the permits he used to seek, stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. You cant have it both ways: Either the governor was given a bogus rumfor this guy or Vinyard is now trying to run away from his past.

Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network, said, The state of Florida has thumbed its nose at the Clean Water Act for many years, but Rick Scott putting a polluters lawyer in the top position at DEP is beyond flippant, its more of a middle finger at the law of the land."

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