NC environmental chief takes demotion to keep job

Posted December 29, 2016

N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart

— Secretary of Environmental Quality Donald van der Vaart plans to take a position in his department's Division of Air Quality in order to avoid being shut out altogether when the administration of Gov.-elect Roy Cooper takes over next week.

Cooper has already informed some at-will employees in outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory's administration that they will be out of a job as of Jan. 1. By taking a demotion to become an environmental regulator, a position he held for 20 years before being named DEQ chief two years ago, van der Vaart will be protected by state personnel laws from being fired by Cooper and his team.

Under van der Vaart's watch, Duke Energy began cleaning up its North Carolina coal ash dumps to comply with a 2014 state law, although environmental groups say DEQ should have required Duke to excavate all of the unlined pits instead of allowing the utility to leave the toxic ash in some and simply cover them.

His department also was involved in a flap last summer over confusing warnings to well owners near coal ash pits. Warnings that well water was unsafe to drink were later rescinded, and when a state toxicologist questioned the all-clear notices, McCrory administration officials accused him of lying under oath. The state's epidemiologist then resigned in support of the toxicologist.

DEQ also sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year over changes to the federal Clean Water Act, and van der Vaart also pushed for changing state law to rein in the solar power industry.


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  • Anna Temple Dec 29, 2016
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    This guy needs to go. He cares nothing for the beauty of NC. He cares nothing for the environment. One of the rare qualities of NC is the widespread system of parks and wilderness and clean air and clean living. That is one attribute that brings the best of the best to NC. Sir you need to go.

  • Betsey Duggins Dec 29, 2016
    user avatar

    He makes me sick to think McCrook's lacky can get government job protection due to a demotion loophole. Van Der Cheat needs to save face and retire. Going back to Air Quality division. And in NC, that consists of what exactly? Why can we not get rid of the worst DEQ Chief Executive that we have ever had that boldly lied to the public?

  • Dolly Butler Dec 29, 2016
    user avatar

    How awful ! I thought that we were getting rid of this man who has not shown real care for the environment in North Carolina ...maybe there is still hope that he can be removed. Cooper's Election should not have included him in the deal.