- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory has named a veteran manager at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as the agency’s next top leader once the current secretary shifts to head the Department of Commerce in January.

On Tuesday, McCrory announced the elevation of state energy policy adviser and Deputy Secretary Donald van der Vaart. He’s replacing John Skvarla, whom the governor announced three weeks ago would become his commerce secretary after current Secretary Sharon Decker steps down at the end of the month.

Unlike Skvarla, who had no previous agency work experience before becoming secretary two years ago, van der Vaart has worked in state environment offices for about 20 years before a recent rapid rise. Last January, he became state energy policy adviser as the McCrory administration sought to expand energy exploration both offshore and inland. In August, he was named the department’s No. 2 leader.

Van der Vaart, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering and a law degree and has taught at North Carolina State University for years, also once worked for the oil company Shell and the former Carolina Power & Light, now part of Duke Energy. He also performed research early in his career at Virginia Tech and what is now RTI International.

“Van der Vaart’s scientific and academic credentials alone are remarkable, but he also has the real-world experience to ensure that North Carolina continues to implement common-sense solutions based on science,” the governor said in a release.

McCrory added that van der Vaart would continue the department’s focus on protecting the environment while helping maintain the state’s recent economic surge. Skvarla’s term as secretary was marked by his customer-driven focus toward permit applicants but also by Duke Energy’s coal ash spill into the Dan River last February, which shined a light upon regulatory decision-making.

The North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club is worried about van der Vaart’s promotion in part because of what it considers his support for both offshore exploration and fracking.

“This appointment could well generate even more concerns and controversy about the McCrory administration’s policies over the next two years,” state club director Molly Diggins said in an email.

Van der Vaart’s tenure will begin as the department helps a new state commission carry out a law passed last summer demanding Duke Energy move or cap coal ash held at 14 sites statewide. Separately, federal subpoenas also have sought documents from Duke, the department and state utilities regulators related to the Dan River spill and state oversight of ash dumps.

A department division also in 2015 could begin examine drilling permits for fracking once rules for the activity are finalized.

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