Editorial: Van der Vaart needs to leave agency he tried to dismantle

Posted May 10

Photo courtesy Yadkin Riverkeeper

A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, May 10, 2017; Editorial # 8159
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

What kind of business is forced to keep a former CEO, whose past actions and views are diametrically opposed to the policies and priorities of the new leadership, in a managerial post?

Not a very well run one. But that’s been a fact of life, forced upon the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality since late December when former Secretary Donald van der Vaart demoted himself to a $97,200-a-year job in the Division of Air Quality.

He’s now the chief of the Technical Services Section, a post that according to the department’s spokesman Jamie Kritzer, is a “necessary middle management position for the state’s air quality program.” He directly supervises two branch heads and an office assistant. It is a protected job and van der Vaart cannot be fired at will, like other political appointees.

During his tenure at the top of the department van der Vaart did all he could to thwart the expansion and development of renewable and sustainable energy, was less than enthusiastic about holding Duke Energy accountable for its failure to properly monitor and handle coal ash and showed little initiative toward the agency’s main mission – assuring compliance with laws, rules and regulations to protect North Carolina’s, land, water and air. Rather than being concerned with what’s best for all North Carolinians, his key “customers” were those he was charged with regulating.

He was such an aggressively outspoken backer of corporate-friendly environmental regulation that state Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, described van der Vaart’s words and actions as a disappointing “politicization.”

The current administration takes a contrary approach on every one of those key issues. But rather than resign and make way for the new administration, van der Vaart managed to game the system and demote himself into a bureaucratically gerrymandered position.

And he wasn’t shy, even as it became clear that Roy Cooper would take over the governor’s job. He was outspoken and highly public in expressing views that contradicted policies Cooper had pledged to pursue.

He’s penned a column praising Myron Ebell, one of President Donald Trump’s potential picks to lead the federal Environmental Protection Agency and a skeptic on industrial emissions contributing to climate change. Van der Vaart also co-signed a letter urging Trump to abandon Obama administration initiatives to more closely regulate coal-fired power plants and U.S. waterways.

He’d been openly critical of the Democratic governor criticizing then state Attorney General Cooper for failing to join a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s final rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Van der Vaart had the state DEQ join an effort to block the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as federal overreach.

His selfish maneuver is in sharp contrast to the meat-ax approach he took after being elevated to the top DEQ post. Van der Vaart almost immediately removed, demoted and reassigned top leaders in the agency, including then assistant secretaries Brad Ives and Mitch Gillespie, so he could appoint his cronies to those posts.

What’s he trying to do? Does he think he’s being funny? If van der Vaart needs something to occupy himself as he waits for a call from the Trump administration, he ought not be on the North Carolina taxpayers’ dime. He should show some respect for the new leadership and get out of the agency he tried to dismantle. Today would not be soon enough.


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