DEP Appointment Sends Pro-Industry Message

Scott’s Appointment for DEP Chief Sends Pro-Industry Message
The Bradenton Times
Published Wednesday, January 5, 2011 3:00 am
by Dennis Maley

BRADENTON – When Rick Scott named shipbuilding executive Herschel Vinyard to be the new secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection this week, deregulation proponents cheered. An attorney and part-time lobbyist, the BAE Systems executive used to represent clients accused of pollution violations. In other words, he’s made a good living arguing against the sort of regulations that the agency he will now head is charged with enforcing.

If this sounds shocking, it shouldn’t be. Scott ran on a platform of less government interference in the market place and as little industry oversight as possible. From allowing the Department of Community Affairs to sunshine, to talk of combining the DEP with the DCA and Department of Transportation, and even combining juvenile justice with children and families, Scott has revealed a desire to whittle government down to the smallest size possible — and a willingness to go to any lengths to do so. In fact, what might separate Scott from other governors most is his complete lack of political experience and the absence of a “well, you can’t actually do that” philosophy to such drastic changes.

However, his approach in selecting a DEP head is far from revolutionary. Hiring lobbyists and attorneys from the regulated industries to head a department’s oversight has been a popular tactic in recent years. President Bush regularly tapped such candidates to head agencies like Interior, Agriculture and the FDA. President Obama has relied almost exclusively on Wall Street vets and Federal Reserve Bank executives to monitor nearly every aspect of the banking crisis, TARP and even so-called reform. The argument used is that such professionals understand the practical implications of regulations best, but the end result is nearly always a quick and efficient gutting of any measures opposed by the industry, followed by a profitable return to the private sector they’ve just made so happy.

Predictably, Scott’s appointment, which still has to be confirmed by the Senate, was applauded by industry while being scoffed at by environmentalists. Neil Armingeon of the environmental group St. Johns Riverkeeper told the Miami Herald, “I’m almost at the point now where I’m not sure it matters who runs the agency, since the Scott administration plans to deregulate everything in Florida.” Whether Scott’s argument that such deregulation will yield massive investment and job creation or just turn the state into a giant landfill for a small handful’s profit remains to be seen