Some of the state's strongest protectors of our natural resources were recently expelled from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Fifty-eight of the most knowledgeable and long-serving employees were let go in order to fulfill the governor's promise/threat of less regulation.
When political novice Rick Scott became Florida's governor, he appointed Herschel Vinyard, a shipyard executive, to be secretary of the DEP. Many of us who have been involved with environmental and water resource issues were very concerned about what message that sent and worried about the possible lack of commitment to protection.
Trying to keep an open mind and respect the governor's right to name his secretaries, I reluctantly voted to confirm Mr. Vinyard after meeting with him and asking numerous questions about his philosophy and intentions. Once confirmed, he validated my fears through his actions relating to water management districts, funding and selling state-owned lands.
Stories leaked out about water management district employees being purged because they were perceived to be too tough on politically influential developers and engineers. Then came the story of a DEP employee let go for doing what the law required, despite higher-ups wanting her to turn her head on a questionable permitting issue.
Now a major cleaning out of veteran employees puts the state's environment in further and potentially irreversible peril.
Florida, more than most states, relies on its natural beauty to keep our economy humming. While 18 million residents populate our state, more than 80 million visitors a year flock to our beaches, rivers, lakes and parks, keeping tourism as a cog in our economic engine.
Florida's economy depends heavily on its environment, which brings tourists and new residents here and provides the quality of life that businesses indicate is a leading factor in their relocation decisions.
It is sheer folly to think that protecting the environment is somehow responsible for killing jobs or hurting business when, in fact, it does the opposite.
Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, believes the restoration of the Everglades is a key driver of Florida's economic future. He stated, "Nearly one in three Floridians depend on the Everglades ecosystem for their drinking water. Without that supply of water, Florida's economic growth will be jeopardized."
After decades of good environmental stewardship under governors of both parties — Graham, Chiles, Martinez, Bush, Crist — many of our successes have been dismantled in a mere two years.
A plea to the governor and the DEP secretary: Please put the "protection" back in the Department of Environmental Protection.