THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 3, 2011 --
Gov.-elect Rick Scott picked the director of a Jacksonville shipyard to run his Department of Environmental Protection Monday, turning to an unconventional source for the state’s top natural resources watchdog.
Herschel Vinyard, director of Jacksonville-based BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards, will lead the Department of Environmental Protection under Scott, his transition team confirmed to the News Service of Florida. Vinyard, who was a member of Scott’s Economic Development Transition Team, is an attorney by trade who practiced environmental law for 10 years, Scott noted in a statement.
“Herschel is a man of deep environmental knowledge and practical business experience,” Scott said in the statement. “He has a love for our great state’s natural resources and a passion for job creation. He will effectively balance those interests for the benefit of all Floridians. We are fortunate to have recruited Herschel from the private sector into government service.”
Vinyard will take over a large state agency that has this year drawn attention for its efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and its fight against new federal water regulations. Interim DEP Secretary Mimi Drew had been among the state agency heads under outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist that Scott asked to stay on “for an additional period of 30-60 days," but the transition could not confirm Monday whether or not she would stay on with Vinyard’s appointment.
The first group out with praise of the choice of Vinyard Monday may have been telling. It was the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a big business lobby.
“As a veteran environmental lawyer, strong business leader, and Florida Chamber member, Herschel is a solid choice and brings impressive skills that will allow him the ability to balance our state’s natural resources with job creation,” Chairman and former Republican House Speaker Allan Bense said in a statement. “His knowledge and appreciation for Florida’s environment, coupled with experience as a leader in Florida’s business community make Herschel Vinyard the right pick to lead the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.”
Environmentalists were more muted in their reaction, saying that Scott’s choice of a businessman to lead the state’s environmental protection agency was not surprising.
“Clearly Gov. Scott has selected someone who is going to see things through a business lens,” said Florida Business Network for a Clean Energy Economy Director Susan Glickman. “Everything he’s talked about up to this point is about easing regulations and prioritizing growth. This selection is in keeping with that…(but) we need to make sure we in the state of Florida don’t sort of kill the goose that laid the golden egg, which is this beautiful environment.”
Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper agreed with Glickman’s wait-and-see attitude about Vinyard.
“He seems to have had some significant success as a business leader,” he said. “If he applies those skills and talents to protecting Florida’s land, air and water, then we have reason to celebrate. If on the other hand, the governor-elect has appointed him to get to work dismantling the agency, we have reason to be concerned. I’m more concerned with what his directive (from Scott) is.”
Draper noted that previous DEP Secretaries like Virginia Wetherell did not have explicit environmental backgrounds before assuming control of the agency. Wetherell, who headed DEP under former Gov. Lawton Chiles from 1993-1999, had been a legislator before she took over the environmental protection department.
But Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, said she had “little or no expectations” from Scott or Vinyard on environmental protection.
“(With) the governor’s very clear messaging and the preparation that he’s made so far in the transition, putting a very, very strong emphasis to clearing any obstruction to business, I don’t see any reason why we should be terribly optimistic that we will see a change in what we’ve had for about the past 12 years in Florida, which is a nod from the governor’s office for environmental protection,” she said. “I’m not optimistic about our new governor and what he hopes to accomplish in terms of environmental protection.”
Young has long been vocal critic of DEP's opposition to water regulations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and supported a lawsuit filed by Florida environmentalists that produced them.
Gov. Crist’s DEP has questioned the science behind the EPA proposals for new numeric limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water and proposed its own standards that sought to provide the state more “flexibility” for compliance than Young and other environmentalists would like them to have.
Scott defended the choice of Vinyard, touting his business background, not hiding from it.
“Good environmental practices make good business sense,” he said. “Not only can such stewardship better protect the resources around us, they often save money and lead to new innovation. Herschel has been on the front lines of such efforts and will ensure that Florida leads the nation in new partnerships between government and industry that save money, streamline processes and create jobs.”