Administrative Watch: Where Is Van der Vaart?
Where in the world is Donald van der Vaart? When we last saw former state environmental secretary van der Vaart, he had “burrowed in” for job security at a department he no longer leads. Now, according to one environmental reporter, he seems to have vanished.
Environmental reporter Lisa Sorg of NC Policy Watch has kept track of van der Vaart since he demoted himself to a protected mid-management post in the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) prior to Gov. Roy Cooper’s swearing-in as governor on January 1. Van der Vaart had made a wide name for himself as former Gov. Pat McCrory’s anti-environmental DEQ Secretary, and it was clear that his tenure as head of the department was coming to a swift end as soon as Cooper took office. By demoting himself to the “non-political” level post, van der Vaart held on to a state job while he was reportedly being considered for posts within the Trump Administration.
Sorg reported in late September that van der Vaart had co-authored an extensive opinion piece in a national publication, arguing that a major piece of established law (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) that protects clean air in rural communities should be abolished. As Sorg reported, van der Vaart’s affiliation with DEQ was prominently mentioned, despite the fact that his opinions were not those of the department’s current leadership.
Sorg quoted Derb Carter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), who responded, “It’s an extremely radical view — like something you’d read in Brietbart News — and I don’t think they reflect the current leadership at the department. It appears to be an effort to undermine the current leadership after these political appointees put themselves in different positions.”
Last week, Sorg reported that van der Vaart could not be reached in his DEQ office, and that he appeared to be gone for an indefinite time.
While no one at DEQ was in a position to confirm that former Sec. van der Vaart had departed the agency for good, we can hope for that to be the case. It’s an embarrassment to our state that a champion of virulently pro-polluter policy is able to continue to hold himself out as speaking from a position of responsibility within our leading environmental protection department.