Saturday, June 23, 2018
Opinion

Imagine, if you can, a state that actually protected the environment

Imagine you are a boss in the Department of Environmental Protection.

It is your job to preserve the state's wetlands. To ensure water quality is never compromised, and developers do not destroy that which makes Florida unique.

So now one of your experts is telling you an investment company is trying to pull a fast one. That it is claiming a batch of land it owns is valuable wetlands property.

Your expert says most of the land does not qualify as wetlands, and it's neither legal nor wise to take the landowner's word that improvements to the environment will be made.

So what do you do?

Do you compliment your employee on the thoroughness of her work? Do you praise her integrity for refusing to bow to political pressure on this deal?

If you are Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn, you suspend your expert and clear the path for the investment company to recoup the millions of dollars it has spent on this land deal, according to an outstanding report by the Times' Craig Pittman on Monday.

This is after you had essentially allowed the landowner's attorney to rewrite the rules of your organization so it would be easier to reclassify property as wetlands.

Imagine you run the Department of Environmental Protection.

You are the protector of the lands. The guardian of ecology. You are the last line of defense between the state's precious environment and those who would abuse it for financial gain.

It is the spring of 2011, and you have been in the job for only a few months. Yet already there is an assault on the state's air and water quality.

Lawmakers are considering changing laws so a corporation no longer has to prove that projects will not harm the environment. Instead, the burden will be shifted to citizens to prove that a project is causing pollution.

Environmental groups say this legislation will turn back the clock on 30 years of growth-management laws in the state. They persuade the Legislature to wipe out the provision.

So what do you do?

Do you thank the Audubon Society for its watchdog role? Do you applaud legislators for putting the environment ahead of development?

If you are DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard, you lobby a state senator to sneak that pro-development legislation back into a different amendment, where it passes in the final days of session.

Imagine you are the governor of Florida.

It is up to you to put the most qualified people in charge of the most important agencies. It is your responsibility to safeguard the future by appointing a DEP secretary who understands and appreciates the fragility of the environment.

The previous secretary, for instance, had worked for the department for 16 years and had risen to the role of deputy secretary before being tapped by the last governor.

So what do you do?

If you are Gov. Rick Scott, you go outside the environmental community and choose Vinyard, an executive at a Jacksonville shipyard, to be your DEP chief.

Vinyard was also chairman of a shipbuilder's council that lobbied the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lighten regulations for its members.

These are the people in charge of Florida's environment.

Imagine that.

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