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Former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart’s new job: Chief Administrative Law Judge

Donald van der Vaart (File photo: NCDEQ)

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby has appointed Donald van der Vaart as the new Chief Administrative Law Judge and director of the Office of Administrative Hearings, according to a press statement released today.

“Dr. van der Vaart is a multi-disciplined expert who has accumulated a vast amount of experience in regulatory, legal, and administrative operations,” said Chief Justice Newby. “His skill set is a great fit for directing OAH.”

Van der Vaart resigned from the Environmental Management Commission last week; he had been on the EMC since July 2019, an appointee of State Senate Pro Temp Phil Berger. The 15-member board makes environmental rules that DEQ must follow.

The Office of Administrative Hearings is a quasi-judicial agency that provides administrative law judges to preside over contested cases of administrative law. In addition, OAH deals with the procedure which governs rulemaking for North Carolina state agencies, including Van der Vaart’s alma mater, the Department of Environmental Quality.

Van der Vaart’s annual salary as Chief Administrative Law Judge is roughly $127,000.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Van der Vaart as Secretary of the Environment in January 2015, a post Van der Vaart held until December 2016, when McCrory lost the gubernatorial election.

A lawyer and a chemical engineer, with a specialty in air quality, Van der Vaart often supported weakening or even eliminating environmental rules. His anti-regulatory stance had put him on the short list for the top job at the EPA in the Trump administration, a post that went to Scott Truitt instead.

As Van der Vaart’s tenure as DEQ Secretary wound down, he helped ensure he would remain on the public payroll while awaiting a possible federal appointment: While still secretary, Van der Vaart demoted himself and his chief deputy, John Evans, to mid-level management positions in their previous branch of the agency, the Division of Air Quality.

Within a year, though, van der Vaart and Evans were placed on investigatory leave after publishing an anti-regulatory opinion piece on air quality in a widely read national environmental law journal that contradicted Gov. Cooper administration’s stance.

Both men resigned. After that, van der Vaart joined the staff of the conservative John Locke Foundation, where he was employed as a Senior Fellow focusing on energy and environment issues. Evans went to work at the EPA office in Research Triangle Park writing air quality rules.

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Former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart’s new job: Chief Administrative Law Judge