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Former DEQ Secretary Resigns From Department Amid Investigation

Former state environmental secretary Donald van der Vaart.

Former state environmental secretary Donald van der Vaart has resigned from the Department of Environmental Quality, amid an investigation.  A DEQ spokeswoman confirmed his departure Wednesday.  

Van der Vaart had been a scientist in the DEQ before former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory appointed him to run the department. After McCrory lost re-election last year to Democrat Roy Cooper, Van der Vaart demoted himself and another top official to staff positions, so they could keep jobs in the DEQ.

Earlier this month, the DEQ put van der Vaart on paid "investigatory leave." Officials didn't say why. But van der Vaart had written an article in an environmental legal journal that contradicted state policy. And he accepted an appointment to a scientific advisory board in the administration of President Donald Trump.

Van der Vaart announced his retirement in a letter Tuesday to current DEQ secretary Michael Regan, which was first reported by WBTV.   DEQ officials provided a copy of the letter to WFAE.  

In it, van der Vaart complains that the DEQ had moved to "stifle my contributions to scientific and legal discourse in professional journals." He calls the actions "deeply troubling."

He also says he was never warned that serving on the EPA scientific advisory panel was off limits, and says he views it as a positive for DEQ and North Carolina. 

Van der Vaart also defended his return to a job as air quality section chief after McCrory's loss. He says in the letter that he agreed to run the DEQ under McCrory with the understanding that he would eventually return to that job.

John Evans, who had been DEQ's No. 2 official during the McCrory administration, remains on investigatory leave, a DEQ spokeswoman said Wednesday. After McCrory's loss, Evans also became a section chief. He and van der Vaart had co-written an op-ed in an environmental law journal arguing for repeal of a key air quality regulation, which DEQ supports.  


Nov. 28, 2017, letter from Donald van der Vaart to DEQ Secretary Michael Regan (PDF)