In his first interview since being appointed to lead the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, Herschel Vinyard spoke with The Florida Current about some of Florida’s more controversial proposals, including a stricter set of water pollution standards and a plan that would privatize portions of some Florida state parks.

In his conversation with the Current, Vinyard said that his No. 1 mission is still to protect the environment. “We can’t let environmental protection slip,” he said. “I am very mission-oriented. That comes first.”

Though he says that Florida needs to “get it right both with respect to water quality and water quantity,” Vinyard is opposed to a set of federally mandated standards (numeric nutrient criteria) that would limit pollution in Florida waterways. “Florida ought to adopt its own nutrient rules,” he told the Current. “We are one of the few states that has a comprehensive nutrient reduction program.”

Vinyard’s agency requested (.pdf) that the EPA withdraw the criteria, and allow Florida to create its own set of criteria. According to many environmentalists, the state has had plenty of time (more than 10 years) to do that. They say the lack of criteria, and the state’s failure to meet the Clean Water Act, led to the ruling forcing the implementation of the EPA-mandated rules. The criteria are set to be implemented in March, but major agriculture and industrial interests (along with many lawmakers) have worked hard to push for further delays.

Another controversial topic touched on in the interview is a plan to privatize portions of state parks. Though the plan was met with fierce opposition on the part of citizens and state lawmakers, Vinyard still supports the idea.

From the Current:

Despite the parks campground controversy, Vinyard said he still firmly believes that camping is appropriate at more state parks.

But he said the department “clearly made some mistakes” with the Honeymoon Island State Park proposal in Pinellas County. A public hearing in June at Honeymoon Island attracted hundreds, many of them against the campground proposal.

“Any proposed change in activity in a particular park we want to talk to the community surrounding the park,” Vinyard said.

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