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Nancy Smith

Climate Change Policy? What Climate Change Policy?

November 28, 2014 - 6:00pm

The cheer that went up Wednesday among NextGen activisits when Herschel Vinyard announced his departure was pretty silly. Anybody who thinks a new Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary means a new climate-change policy is living in Cloud Cuckooland.

Vinyard's climate policies of the last four years -- and go to the head of the class if you can find any -- came straight from the top. So will the ones embraced during the next four.

When Gov. Rick Scott appointed him in early 2011, Vinyard had solid executive experience. But he wasn't a scientist.He had beenan executive with a military contractor called BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards; before that, he was a corporate lawyer specializing in regulatory issues.

Certainly Vinyard was unlike Gov. Charlie Crist's two successive heads of the DEP. Both were trained scientists; I'm betting both would have earned a NextGen Seal of Approval, had there been such a thing in 2007 or 2009.

Asked to describe the DEP's mission, one of Crists secretaries explained it would be primarily concerned with ensuring Floridas dynamic natural resources, state lands, waterbodies and beaches are protected; Crist himself challenged the department to create a strategy to protect our state from the effects of climate change.

Gov. Scott, on the other hand, had other priorities in 2010, and he made them clear. He believed regulations were choking the Florida economy. He knew exactly what he wanted in a new secretary when he appointed Vinyard.

Soon after Vinyard came aboard,as the department shed scores of what the governor considered were business-blocking regulations, every initiative related to climate change was dropped.

Compare the priorities of Crist's DEP to Scott's: Vinyards mission, explained the current administration when he was appointed, is to protect the natural resources of Florida, while creating the best possible mechanisms for job creation in the state.

Certainly, Scott's policy has evolved in the face of environmental, canary-in-the-mineshaft realities during his first term. He is entirely up to speed on the state's critical water issues now and puts them near the top of his priority list. But I can't find anywhere -- and I've looked and asked -- where that policy includes a mention of climate change.

In May, when the Miami Herald asked Scott about his views on climate change, Scott responded, Well, Im not a scientist. But lets talk about what weve done -- before launching into an overview of his administrations flood prevention spending. When the Herald reporter pressed him further, Scott talked again about protecting the Everglades and preventing flooding. Not a word about climate.

Scott also omitted climate change in his future environmental plans: in August, the governor unveiled a re-election plan for environmental issues, which outlined $1 billion in investments. Again, not a word.

I have seen no evidence anywhere that Scott doesn't believe the climate is changing or that human beings have created it. I think he has simply made a conscious decision to ignore it while other priorities are more pressing.

My point is this: If and when the Scotties put a dime of state resources on the effects of greenhouse gases on Florida, the decision will have nothing to do with the next incarnation of DEP secretary -- whether it's new interim appointee Cliff Wilson, Vinyard's deputy secretary for regulatory programs,or Wilson's "permanent" successor.

The head of DEP will get his marching orders from Gov. Rick Scott himself and the three members of the Florida Cabinet, for whom he works.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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