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Bonus program approved, despite concern it costs Florida’s environment

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was authorized Friday to distribute almost $600,000 in bonuses to 269 employees as a reward for improving efficiency and saving$8.8 million in taxpayer money over the past year.

But Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, derided the bonus system as flawed, warning it effectively rewarded state regulators for approving environmental permits more quickly — comprosing the underlying mission of the agency.

“These types of bonuses may impact decision-making when we are putting in incentives to speed up the approval process,” Pafford told the Legislative Budget Commission.

Pafford said the bonus program is troubling given Gov. Rick Scott’s environmental record, which he said favors job-creating industries over protecting water bodies and greenways.

Since taking office in 2011, Scott has signed legislation which cut water management district budgets, resulting in the wholesale layoff of regulators. Scott also eliminated the state’s Department of Community Affairs and sharply scaled back growth management standards, undoing many that had been in place since 1985.

Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, defended the department’s approach. Negron said DEP was seeking approval to use an existing state agency incentive and savings program that had nothing to do with hurrying-up permits.

Negron said DEP had successfully taken steps to assure regulatory actions were taken “in a timely manner.” He pointed out that he, too, would share Pafford’s concerns if improving efficiency meant reducing department standards.

“The way this is drafted, it will not create incentives for specific outcomes,” Negron said.

The measure was approved by the budget commission, an arm of the Legislature, with Pafford the lone vote against the proposal.

DEP deputy secretary Jeff Littlejohn said that 269 employees out of 1,600 in the agency are eligible for the bonuses, which will range from just under $1,000 to about $5,000. The checks are likely to be distributed in August, Littlejohn said.

 

Scott names Jax businessman as head of DEP

Monday, January 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov.-elect Rick Scott has appointed Jacksonville businessman and lawyer Herschel Vinyard as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection the day before Scott will be sworn in as governor.

Vinyard is currently director of business operations at BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards, the world’s second largest defense contractor according to a press release issued by Scott’s transition team.

Vinyard, who also served on the Jacksonville Port Authority and the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, received his undergraduate and law degrees from Louisiana State University.

The regulatory agency, last headed by marine biologist Mike Sole, is one of several departments Scott has targeted for reform. The governor-elect has made streamlining permitting and reducing regulations and red tape for businesses a priority.

Former DEP chief Mike Sole heads to FPL

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole has gone to work for Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light.

The marine biologist is the vice president of the power company’s government affairs department, according to an internal FPL memo.

Sole, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist shortly after he took office four years ago, stepped down as DEP chief this summer in the midst of overseeing the state’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Oil disaster a siege, not a marathon, DEP Secy. Sole tells lawmakers

Monday, May 10th, 2010 by Dara Kam

gulf_oil_spill_jpeg_426705eThe massive oil leak and continuing outpouring of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is a siege, not a marathon, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole told lawmakers on a conference call this afternoon.

“A lot of times in the emergency management realm we say this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Sole, the state’s lead official in charge of the Deepwater Horizon disaster response, said. “Well, sadly this is not a marathon because I don’t know how far we’re going to run. This is a siege.”

Sole said the state will “continue to throw everything we have at it until it’s solved whether that’s solved in two days because they suddenly get the blow-out prevention device to work or whether they need to keep trying everything and the only solution, the only thing that works is the relief well.”

BP’s attempt to funnel the 210,000 gallons a day spewing out of the wrecked rig 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface failed this weekend. The oil giant is building a relief well to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But that project will take two to three months to complete, Sole said.

And BP is considering other experimental options to try to reduce the amount of oil coursing into the Gulf.

Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker, asked Sole if he could ballpark the chances of success for capping the leak before the relief well is complete.

“That’s an excellent question. The answer is no I don’t,” Sole said, followed by a lengthy silence.

“Whether or not they try other options …whether they’re well-formulated and good ideas that they want to pursue, that’s what they’re looking at,” said Sole, a biologist. “I don’t want to say they’re doing to do x. I know they’re looking at those options but they haven’t made a decision yet on what would be the right thing to do.”

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