In case you missed it over your holiday break, Governor Pat McCrory named Don van der Vaart as the new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources to replace Secretary John Skvarla who is moving over to head the Department of Commerce.
Van der Vaart was serving as Deputy Secretary of DENR and as the state’s first “energy policy adviser” according to a press release from McCrory’s office. That means, according to the release, that van der Vaart “focuses on increasing domestic energy exploration, development and production in North Carolina as well as promoting related economic growth and job creation.”
In other words, the new secretary’s previous job was pushing drilling and fracking and other industry objectives in a department that’s priority is supposed to be protecting the environment.
And that’s not the most disturbing part of his appointment.
Van der Vaart was the author of a letter defending a closed meeting on offshore drilling between state and federal officials in November that also included representatives from the oil industry, even though van der Vaat said that neither industry officials nor environmental advocates were attending.
Here’s the gist of the letter and who was really there from a Fitzsimon File a couple of weeks ago.
The administration announced a few weeks before the November 6th meeting in Raleigh that it would be closed to the media and environmental advocates even though government officials would be discussing the controversial issue of drilling for oil and natural gas off the state’s coastline.
Environmental groups protested with the N.C. Conservation Network sending a letter to McCrory objecting to the meeting being closed. A top official with McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources responded in writing, assuring the group that only public officials would be on hand.
“The meeting is by invitation only due in part to concerns raised by a participating federal agency. The inclusion of special interest groups and industry would allow for the potential of the appearance of influence on permit application reviews currently underway by the Obama Administration. Therefore, the joint decision was made to limit the invitation list to federal and state agencies and elected officials to avoid any potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest.”
No special interest or industry groups were going to participate to avoid conflicts of interest. The meeting still should have been open but the DENR official was pretty clear about who was and who wasn’t invited.
But he was not telling the truth we know now thanks to a report by the Center for Public Integrity that was published in Time Magazine not long before the Thanksgiving holiday. The story details how oil industry representatives were at the closed meeting and even participated on panel discussions with government officials.
So if you are keeping score at home, the new head of the state agency charged with protecting the environment is an enthusiastic advocate for drilling and didn’t tell the truth about a meeting on offshore energy exploration attended by industry officials that environmentalists and reporters were barred from attending.
That inspires a lot of confidence.