News Section: Opinion
Will the Real Herschel Vinyard Please Stand Up
BRADENTON -- In the film, The Talented Mr. Ripley, actor Matt Damon impersonates his way into a world of prestige and power by persuading those suspicious of his credentials with his tremendous gall. It seems Herschel Vinyard, Secretary of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, has taken a page from character Tom Ripley's playbook. Only now he is also being asked to take off the Princeton Jacket.
Vinyard is changing his story to what he was really doing before Governor Rick Scott appointed him to head the FDEP. It seems he is no longer the permit guru he claimed he was. In fact, like Ripley, he's been faking it all along. This is where the persona of a jacket no longer works, this is where the pilot is asked to go and sit in coach.
Now, there are more questions than answers. First concern should be, did Governor Scott know? If he did, there are some serious legal issues.
Herschel Vinyard's appointment as Secretary of the FDEP is in violation of § 304 (i) of the Clean Water Act, prohibiting persons employed by regulated dischargers from overseeing state agencies that administer National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The statue clearly states there must be two years separation between the positions of "employed by" and "in charge of."
It appears Vinyard's previous status, just prior to accepting his FDEP position, is very much in conflict with the federal statute.
Vinyard, was director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards, overseeing wastewater permits and other regulatory matters, and also chairman of Shipbuilders Council of America, where he represented 40 companies in 100 shipyards.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) too little too late policy hasn't acted on a complaint filed more than a year ago, challenging Vinyard's legal right to head the FDEP.
The Florida Clean Water Network and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed the complaint in February 2011. Currently, Vinyard is making decisions pertaining to NDEPS, the development of a narrative nutrient criteria rule and the Total Maximum Daily Loads program throughout Florida. It appears all of these positions conflict with the legal prerequisites of the federal CWA statue.
Governor Scott has not responded publicly. If he appointed Vinyard, knowing of his disqualifying status, decisions made by the department could be in jeopardy, and subject to federal claw-back laws.
Every decision Vinyard makes while under this cloud of legitimacy is in question. Scott announced, when elected Governor, that he was on an anti-regulation quest. What betterway to embark on one than appointing someone who was contesting regulation when chosen for the job. Trouble is, it wasn't legal.
Vinyard needs to come forward with the real truth and quit dodging inquiry, and so does Governor Scott.