For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Trump’s Rumored CEQ Pick Would Undermine Environmental Protections

Raleigh, NC -  After his first pick to lead the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Kathleen Hartnett White, was rejected, Donald Trump is reportedly considering former Secretary of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Donald van der Vaart for the post.

While serving as North Carolina’s DEQ secretary from January 2015 to December 2016, van der Vaart:

  • Supported oil and gas drilling off the state’s coast, even pushing to shrink the proposed buffer between drilling and the shore. 
  • Failed to diligently prosecute coal ash enforcement actions against Duke Energy and cut settlements to minimize Duke’s liability.
  • Demonstrated a persistent bias against renewable energy and promoted burdensome and unnecessary requirements for renewables.
  • Challenged the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule, and lobbied to weaken the Coal Ash Management Act and to eliminate the Coal Ash Management Commission created to guide coal ash cleanup across the state after the Dan River coal ash spill.
  • Demoted himself after Governor McCrory lost his bid for reelection in an attempt to keep his job once the Cooper administration took office. In his short time under Cooper, van der Vaart published a law journal article that contradicted the position of the new Cooper administration on the Clean Air Act. He later accepted a position on Trump’s Science Advisory Board without seeking permission. DEQ Secretary Michael Regan issued a statement saying the agency did not support van der Vaart's participation and noting that he would not speak for the state or DEQ in the role.
  • Urged Donald Trump to gut the EPA following his election.

In response, Sierra Club North Carolina Director Molly Diggins released the following statement:

In North Carolina, Donald van der Vaart showed us that he is fundamentally hostile to the kind of work that is at the core of what CEQ is supposed to do. Van der Vaart has a long history of putting the fossil fuel industry before the health of our environment and the safety of our families. If the rumors are true, Donald Trump badly misread the Senate’s rejection of Kathleen Hartnett White and is considering a candidate to lead CEQ who would be as extreme and destructive.

“As secretary of North Carolina’s environmental department, Donald van der Vaart repeatedly favored the interests of dirty fuel producers and polluting industries over the environmental safety of North Carolina’s residents and its air, land and water.

“Van der Vaart is an outspoken critic of the EPA and federal environmental safeguards, claiming states should make decisions about environmental policy. But as DEQ secretary, van der Vaart worked to dismantle North Carolina’s environmental safety net, especially for air and water quality.

“For the sake of the environment and our communities, we hope this rumor is false.”


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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.

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