1. News

Florida DEP Secretary Jon Steverson going to work for firm that just got DEP contract

Workers clean tarballs from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Waveland beach in 2010. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Published Jan. 30, 2017

At the end of January, two things will change about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

One is that Secretary Jon Steverson will leave his post after two stormy years in charge to take a job with the law firm of Foley & Lardner.

The other is that Steverson's new employers at Foley & Lardner will take over representing Florida in handling the billions of dollars awarded to the state as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In a contract signed at the end of November, the DEP agreed to pay Foley & Lardner $96,000 a year to represent Florida in meetings of the Restore Council, a coalition of states and federal agencies that oversee the spending of the oil spill settlement money.

The employee at Foley & Lardner who will handle those duties: Steverson's predecessor at the DEP, former secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr., who was hired by the company after he quit the agency in 2014.

The fact that DEP's leader was hired by a company that just received a DEP contract "doesn't pass the smell test," said Ben Wilcox of the watchdog group Integrity Florida. "It's pretty stinky. It's almost like the new job is a thank-you for sending the contract their way."

An agency spokeswoman defended the Foley & Lardner contract by noting that Steverson's new employer would be paid using money from BP's settlement, not from the DEP's own budget.

"No taxpayer dollars will be used for these services," said DEP spokeswoman Lauren Engel.

Until now, Florida's representative on the council has been Mimi Drew, who served as DEP secretary for a year under then-Gov. Charlie Crist and was then replaced by Vinyard, Gov. Rick Scott's first DEP secretary. Vinyard stayed three years.

Drew, who does not work for Foley & Lardner, said she is ready to retire and spend time traveling with her husband.

"I've been doing this for almost seven years," she said, "and I want some time off."

Drew had been an employee at DEP for 30 years, dating to when it was known as the Department of Environmental Regulation. Vinyard was a Jacksonville shipyard executive with no prior experience running a government agency when he took over the DEP.

He was chosen by Scott as the ideal person to replace Drew on the Restore Council, Engel said.

"As this position represents Florida on a state and federal council that is working to restore the ecosystem and the economy of the Gulf Coast region, it is important that Florida be represented by someone knowledgeable about the effects of the oil spill on Florida's environment and communities," she said.

Foley & Lardner, an international law firm with four Florida offices, is also one of the firms the state is paying to handle its lawsuit against Georgia over water rights. Florida sued Georgia in 2013, claiming that the state's excessive use of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers was endangering Florida's oyster industry. Foley & Lardner is to be paid $2.6 million.

Scott said Tuesday he has no problem with Steverson taking a job with a company that has a contract with the agency he led.

"We have people who come to work for the state and they work very hard and then they find opportunities," he said. "That's just part of the process. . . . If they have these opportunities, then I'm glad for them."

Steverson, who did not respond to repeated requests from the Tampa Bay Times for an interview during his two years in office, was not available for comment.

His tenure as the head of DEP was marked by controversy. The agency was criticized for not telling the public for three weeks about a sinkhole at Mosaic's Mulberry phosphate plant last year. Steverson's call to allow hunting, timber harvesting and cattle grazing at state parks drew complaints that his plan would ruin a major tourist draw. And his push for new water quality standards that allow a larger amount of cancer-causing chemicals to be dumped into Florida's waterways has been challenged by environmental groups.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at Follow @craigtimes.


  1. Lawanda Ravoira, DPA, president & CEO, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, said girls are subject to an alarming rate of violence and bullying and are not getting the help they need from counseling and other social services. CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL  |  Times
    Leader of Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center comes to Tampa to warn of “unchecked crisis” of violence and victimization of middle and high school girls.
  2. This rendering shows Scientology's proposed L. Ron Hubbard Hall, a 3,600-seat auditorium with an all-glass facade at the corner of Garden Avenue and Court Street in downtown Clearwater. [Courtesy City of Clearwater]
    Plans for L. Ron Hubbard Hall go back 26 years. If constructed, it would have more seats than Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall.
  3. Classic Reflections Carriages is offering carriage rides starting at 6 p.m. Dec. 19-21 throughout downtown Brooksville. Reservations are made in person on each event date, starting at 4 p.m., in front of the historic courthouse. Brooksville Main Street
    Holiday events in Pasco and Hernando counties
  4. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  5. A Brinks security guard was shot during a robbery attempt at a GTE Financial credit union in Brandon Friday morning. TONY MARRERO  |  Times
    Deputies thought they had the suspect pinned down at the Bridgeport Apartments, but he fled.
  6. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The motorcycle was headed south on Dale Mabry, while the northbound bus was making a turn.
  7. Police are seen outside a home at 5342 22nd Ave. N Friday in St. Petersburg. Stanley Jones, inset, is accused of stabbing two women at 22nd Avenue North and 53rd Street. One woman died from her injuries and the other was hospitalized. [URSO, CHRIS | Tampa Bay Times] CHRIS URSO | Times; St. Petersburg Police Department
    Police arrested Stanley Jones just after the stabbing Friday on 22nd Avenue N.
  8. President Donald Trump speaks during a small business roundtable in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) EVAN VUCCI  |  AP
    It’s another sign Donald Trump has accepted that he is likely to be impeached by the House.
  9. In this Dec. 5 photo authorities investigate the scene of a shooting in Miramar, Fla. The FBI says several people, including a UPS driver, were killed after robbers stole the driver’s truck and led police on a chase that ended in gunfire at a busy South Florida intersection during rush hour. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP) TAIMY ALVAREZ  |  AP
    A lawyer for the union where Rick Cutshaw worked said Cutshaw had just left his office before being killed. “He was going home.”
  10. In this Dec. 4, 2019 file photo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk arrives at U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Musk did not defame a British cave explorer when he called him “pedo guy” in an angry tweet, a Los Angeles jury found Friday. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) MARK J. TERRILL  |  AP
    Vernon Unsworth had angered the Tesla CEO by belittling his effort to help in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for weeks in a Thailand cave as a “PR stunt.”