McCrory names new head for environmental agency

Donald van der Vaart will become North Carolina's next secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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Donald van der Vaart
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday named Don van der Vaart, a deputy secretary who teaches engineering at North Carolina State University, to head the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Van der Vaart succeeds John Skvrala, who is moving to take over as Department of Commerce secretary at the end of the year. 

"Van der Vaart’s scientific and academic credentials alone are remarkable, but he also has the real-world experience to ensure that North Carolina continues to implement common-sense solutions based on science," McCrory said in a statement.

After working for years in DENR's air quality section, van der Vaart recently became a deputy secretary and the department's energy policy adviser.

"I am privileged to take on this role after serving the department in various capacities over the past 20 years," van der Vaart said in a statement. "I will focus on DENR’s core mission of environmental protection and augmenting our citizens’ understanding of our state’s abundant and unique natural resources."

He holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Cambridge, a law degree from North Carolina Central University and a master's degree in chemical engineering from N.C. State.

In a department that has spent is share of time in the spotlight over the past year, van der Vaart has been largely out of the spotlight. He did testify before Congress in opposition to rules lowering carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, and his name surfaced in connection with a closed-door offshore energy confab between state and federal regulators.

At least one environmental groups was critical of the choice.

"Today’s appointment of Don Van der Vaart to the position of Secretary of DENR is a missed opportunity by the Governor to restore pubic confidence in credibility of the agency after the battering DENR's reputation has taken the last two years," said Molly Diggins of North Carolina's Sierra Club Chapter. Asked why the group had this objection, she said, "At a minimum, van der Vaart can be expected to closely follow the approach of outgoing Sec. Skvarla. Beyond that, the question going forward is if the McCrory administration is going to make environmental decisions based on ideology versus what is good for the state."


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