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Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097 [PEER]; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337 [PEER}; Linda Young (850) 322-7978 [Florida Clean Water Network]
Florida's top environmental official contends that federal Clean Water Act conflict of interest disqualification does not apply to him despite strong evidence to the contrary, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Florida Clean Water Network. The U.S.
Florida's top environmental official contends that federal Clean Water Act conflict of interest disqualification does not apply to him despite strong evidence to the contrary, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Florida Clean Water Network. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is deciding whether Herschel Vinyard, Florida's environmental secretary, must recuse himself from all water permit and standards actions because of his deep industry ties at the moment state-federal tensions on these very issues are flaring up.
On February 23, 2011, PEER and Florida Clean Water Network filed a legal complaint with EPA that Vinyard and another top appointee should be legally barred under a Clean Water Act provision forbidding appointment of any state decision-maker on pollution discharge permits in federally delegated and financed water quality programs who "has during the previous two years received a significant portion of his income directly or indirectly from permit holders or applicants for a permit." The complaint cited Vinyard's tenure as director of operations for BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards where he was involved in its permits for its treated wastewater as well as its other regulatory affairs. He was also the chairman of the Shipbuilders Council of America, representing 40 companies operating 100 shipyards.
In an April 8, 2011 letter, EPA Regional Counsel Mary Wilkes wrote that if the groups' contentions are correct Vinyard would have to create an "irrevocable delegation" of water quality duties to another state official for at least two years. She added that "The person with the conflict of interest must relinquish any authority he or she may have to perform other acts necessary to administer the program (including, for example, implementing water quality standards, and establishing waste load allocations and total maximum daily loads)" - thus totally sidelining Vinyard from his self-proclaimed principal area of expertise.
In a May 2, 2011 reply to EPA, DEP General Counsel Thomas Beason argued that Vinyard's direct regulatory experience was not of sufficiently great duration or depth. Beason went so far as to assert that Vinyard was only employed with BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards AMHC, Inc. for the two week period during which Governor Scott appointed Vinyard to head the Florida DEP. In addition, Beason challenged EPA's "overly broad interpretation of the conflict of interest section" maintaining that Vinyard would only be barred from issuing permits but could still run Florida's overall water quality program.
In a sharp rebuttal filed on May 20, PEER and Florida Clean Water Network detailed Vinyard's extensive direct involvement with permit matters, and called the DEP response a "clear effort to rewrite history." The groups also point to Governor Rick Scott's introductory press release on Vinyard touting the exact experience that Vinyard now wants to discount.
"Governor Scott picked Vinyard precisely because of his industry record - a record that disqualifies him to oversee the permits he used to seek," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. "You can't have it both ways: either the Governor was given a bogus resume for this guy or Vinyard is now trying to run away from his past."
This flap occurs as the rigor of state water quality standards is under assault from federal courts and from EPA itself. Florida vigorously opposed stiffening federal oversight and Vinyard occupies a key slot in this struggle.
"The State of Florida has thumbed its nose at the Clean Water Act for many years, but Rick Scott putting a polluter's lawyer in the top position at DEP is beyond flippant, it's more of a middle finger at the law of the land." said Linda Young, Director of the Florida Clean Water Network
Read the EPA initial response to the PEER complaint
See the original PEER complaint
Examine Gov. Scott's press release touting Vinyard's regulatory record
Trace growing tension between Florida and EPA on water quality issues
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.
"We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law," asserted one of the plaintiffs.
Progressive advocacy groups are suing Mississippi officials over a new state law requiring permission to hold public protests near state government buildings in the capital city of Jackson.
A lawsuit filed last week by JXN Undivided Coalition, Mississippi Votes, Mississippi Poor People's Campaign, Black Voters Matter, and a trio of activists challenges S.B. 2343, which is set to take effect on July 1. The legislation required prior approval from Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell or Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey for public demonstrations on the grounds of or near state government buildings including the Capitol Complex, Governor's Mansion, state Supreme Court, and other edifices.
"The JXN Undivided Coalition and its members have for years engaged in the deeply American tradition of peacefully gathering on public property to convey to elected officials what matters most to us," the group said in a statement on Monday. "What matters most to us is the right to vote and the right of political self-determination for Jackson residents."
"We have spoken, and the state has responded with a sweeping prohibition of speech next to properties in Jackson occupied by state officials absent prior authorization," JXN Undivided Coalition added. "We should not have to risk arrest and imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and equal protection under the law."
\u201c.@JxnUndivided files lawsuit to stop new law requiring the Public Safety Commissioner or Capitol Police Chief\u2019s permission to protest or gather in Jackson anywhere near buildings occupied by a state employee \u2014 aka damn near all of non-residential Jackson. https://t.co/ISwW2dakw1\u201d— Blake Feldman (@Blake Feldman) 1685977958
According to the suit:
This year, Mississippi made peaceful protests on public sidewalks and streets next to state government buildings in Jackson without written prior permission from one of two state officials. The new law... is an unconstitutional prior restraint that does not further a constitutionally sufficient or permissible purpose. Those who peacefully protest without state government authorization and who are charged with crimes for doing so may be prosecuted and sentenced to prison. This chills protected speech.
As the Associated Pressreported Monday:
Critics say the majority-white and Republican-controlled Legislature passed the laws to take away local autonomy in Jackson and surrounding Hinds County, which are both majority-Black and governed by Democrats. Supporters of the laws say they are trying to control violent crime.
Several protests have been held near state government buildings in downtown Jackson during the past year, including some in January, February, and March against the legislation dealing with courts and policing. The Poor People's Campaign held events on a street outside the Governor's Mansion last fall to protest what organizers said was the state’s inadequate investment in Jackson's struggling water system.
In recent years, numerous states have passed laws criminalizing or restricting protest activity and protecting motorists who kill or injure protesters under certain circumstances.
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," says a new letter from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and three of her Democratic colleagues.
Four Democratic U.S. senators have asked Twitter CEO Elon Musk and CEO-Designate Linda Yaccarino to provide information about the social media corporation's "continued disregard for consumer safety" by June 18, the lawmakers announced Monday.
In a letter dated Friday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Ed Markey (Mass.), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) expressed their concerns that since Musk purchased and assumed control of Twitter in October 2022, the company may have "violated its consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and put consumer privacy and data security at risk."
The letter follows last week's back-to-back resignations of Twitter's former head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, and its former head of brand safety and advertising quality, A.J. Brown.
"Regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"These departures, following a string of high-profile resignations from Twitter's lead privacy, information security, and compliance officers, raise concerns about Twitter's ability to comply with its legal obligations," the lawmakers wrote. "Twitter had a poor track record of protecting consumer privacy even before Mr. Musk's takeover."
As FTC spokesperson Douglas Farrar explained earlier this year, Twitter in 2011 "agreed to a 20-year consent order over its data security practices and how it uses your private information."
In May 2022, several months before Musk's acquisition of the company was finalized, "the FTC charged Twitter with violating the 2011 order for misusing personal information," Farrar noted. Twitter then "paid a $150 million penalty and entered a new consent order," which "added further provisions to protect consumers' sensitive data."
But as the four Senate Democrats pointed out in their new letter, Musk has "made numerous hasty personnel and product decisions" since he took over Twitter last October, heightening concerns about the company's adherence to the updated FTC agreement.
The resignations and terminations began well before the exits of Irwin and Brown last week, as the quartet observed:
In November 2022, Mr. Musk fired multiple top executives; top security executives resigned; and Mr. Musk fired employees who had criticized him, let go of contractors, and laid off half of the workforce. On November 9, the day before the deadline to submit a report to the FTC, the chief privacy officer, chief information security officer, and chief compliance officer all resigned. Internal messages obtained by The New York Times show that an employee suggested internal privacy reviews of Twitter's products were not occurring as they should under the order. Reports also indicated that the launch of the updated Twitter Blue subscription service "disregarded the company's normal privacy and security review." In April of this year, Mr. Musk also confirmed that over 80% of the workforce had left Twitter since he became CEO.
"These personnel changes, firsthand accounts from employees, and hasty launch of new products raise questions about whether Twitter is able to comply with its obligations under the FTC consent decree," the lawmakers wrote. "In apparent dismissal of concerns regarding reducing his workforce, Mr. Musk's team has said he is 'used to going to court and paying penalties, and was not worried about the risks.'"
"Mr. Musk's behavior reveals an apparent indifference towards Twitter's longstanding legal obligations, which did not disappear when Mr. Musk took over the company," they continued. "One employee highlighted his problematic behavior, stating, 'Elon has shown that his only priority with Twitter users is how to monetize them,' and his personal lawyer Alex Spiro reportedly said, 'Elon puts rockets into space—he's not afraid of the FTC.'"
As a matter of fact, Musk's Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket exploded before reaching space in April, coating a Texas community in ash and provoking fears of negative public health and environmental impacts.
The senators stressed that "regardless of his personal wealth, Mr. Musk is not exempt from the law, and neither is the company he purchased."
"Twitter must meet the requirements it agreed to under the 2011 and 2022 FTC agreements," they added. "If reports about Mr. Musk's actions are correct, it appears that the company may not be doing so."
Citing their concerns, the lawmakers asked Musk and Yaccarino to answer a series of questions about Twitter's privacy practices no later than June 18.
"In particular, the letter asks whether Twitter conducted a privacy and security assessment of Twitter Blue, its paid subscription service, before rolling it out earlier this year," CNNreported Monday. "Under its 2022 consent agreement, Twitter is required to perform such assessments 'prior to implementing any new or modified product.'"
"The letter also asks whether Twitter has maintained a comprehensive cybersecurity program to protect user data since Musk's takeover and whether Twitter has met various reporting requirements, including obligations to report any significant data breaches to the authorities," CNN noted. According to the outlet, the inquiry "could highlight vast legal risks for Twitter and potentially for Musk himself."
The former Republican president's repeated promotion of his properties to the media and other world leaders amounted to "diplomatic malpractice," one ethics official said.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who is now running for a second term in the 2024 election, made $82.5 million from his businesses in Ireland and Scotland during his presidency as he embroiled himself in what one watchdog group called "extraordinary conflicts of interest" stemming from his frequent trips to his properties in the two countries while he was in office.
As Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported on Monday, Trump repeatedly promoted his properties to the media and other officials as well as charging U.S. government employees to stay there.
Trump stayed at his Doonbeg golf property in Ireland and his Turnberry and Aberdeen golf resorts in Scotland numerous times, in some cases taking detours to stay there while claiming he did so out of "convenience."
\u201cNEW: Donald Trump made $82.5 million from his businesses in the UK and Ireland while serving as President, a @CREWcrew analysis of his tax returns revealed. That created conflicts of interest and reflected use of the presidency to promote his properties.\nhttps://t.co/DGVZiuyo7J\u201d— Noah Bookbinder (@Noah Bookbinder) 1685974512
The president made those trips after making the unprecedented decision not to divest from his real estate empire, the Trump Organization, CREW noted.
That decision led "to four years of egregious conflicts of interest between his business and the government," said CREW in its new report, with some of the worst arising "around his Doonbeg golf course in Ireland, where he made almost $25 million, and his Turnberry and Aberdeen golf properties in Scotland, which helped him make more than $58 million."
While in Europe for a NATO summit and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump went out of his way to spent two nights at Turnberry, later charging his own Secret Service officers $1,300.
A Freedom of Information Act request showed that during former Vice President Mike Pence's 2019 stay at Doonbeg—which was encouraged by Trump, according to Pence's chief of staff—the resort charged the Secret Service more than $15,000.
The then-president and members of his administration mentioned Turnberry, Doonbeg, and Aberdeen at least 50 times during Trump's four years in office, with Trump referring to Turnberry as "magical" at the NATO summit in 2018 and talking to local officials in Ireland about Doonbeg's impact on the economy in 2019.
He reportedly "boasted" about Turnberry frequently in conversations with former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and pushed the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, to lobby for the British Open golf tournament to be held at the resort.
At the time of the latter incident in 2020, Norman Eisen, former special counsel for ethics for President Barack Obama, called Trump's actions "diplomatic malpractice."