Gov. Rick Scott’s prohibition on the term “climate change” has now claimed its first casualty, says an environmental responsibility group.
On March 9, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended a state employee for speaking about climate change at an official meeting, which made its way into the record of the meeting, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Barton Bibler, a long-time DEP employee, received a letter of reprimand ordering him to take two days personal leave. The agency also instructed Bibler not to return without medical clearance.
Bibler currently serves as Land Management Plan Coordinator in DEP Division of State Lands.
On February 27, Bibler attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum, where a number of attendees discussed climate change and sea-level rise, among other environmental topics.
Bibler’s official notes reported all of that conversation.
DEP superiors directed Bibler to remove any “hot button issues,” such as explicit references to climate change. The letter of reprimand, dated March 9, accused Bibler of misrepresenting the “official meeting agenda (so it) included climate change.”
Bibler was instructed to take two days off, which was charged against his personal leave time. He later received a “Medical Release Form” requiring his doctor to provide the agency an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” before being allowed to return to work.
“Bart Bibler has fallen through a professional looking glass in a Florida where the words ‘climate change’ may not be uttered, or even worse, written down,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney.
Phillips pointed out that Bibler currently has “no idea” whether he will ever be allowed to return to work.
“If anyone needs mental health screening it is Governor Rick Scott,” he added, “and other officials telling state workers to pretend that climate change and sea-level rise do not exist.”
PEER is calling on the DEP Office of Inspector General to open an investigation, to determine the propriety of handling Bibler, including forced leave and the directive to waive privacy rights to allow the DEP to review a physician evaluation.
Philips is also asking for the agency to explain on what basis are they banning the use of the terms climate change,” “sustainability” and “sea-level rise.” He also claims the orders to censor meeting summaries is a violation of Florida law forbidding alteration of official records.
“Not just the employees but the citizens of Florida should demand a full investigation into what the heck is going on inside DEP and whether we can expect more cases like this,” Phillips said. “Under Governor Scott, the Department of Environmental Protection functions like a gulag where those in servitude who show any spark of honesty are simply made to disappear.”
DEP Communications Director Lauren Engel responded on Thursday with the following statement.
RE: Response to Employee Reprimand
As stated in Mr. Bibler’s written reprimand, he was reprimanded for violating three DEP standards of conduct, including poor performance, insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee.
On March 2, Mr. Bibler was asked by his manager to attend the Coastal Managers Forum—an inter-agency meeting, as a representative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. At that meeting, he engaged in personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL pipeline — an issue that was not on the meeting agenda nor related to his job duties.
While we respect all our employees’ personal beliefs, we expect them to perform their duties in an impartial and appropriate manner and to stay focused and engaged on job-related activities during work hours.
We also expect all employees to perform their duties—as assigned by their supervisor—in a competent and adequate manner.
After the meeting, Mr. Bibler was reprimanded for failure to fulfill his duties as assigned in an appropriate and respectful way. After multiple requests by his supervisor, Mr. Bibler failed to provide an accurate summary of the meeting, and instead responded in a disrespectful and argumentative fashion by simply providing an attachment with the “Keystone XL Pipeline” with a red circle and a cross through it.
Due to HIPPA laws, we cannot discuss an employee’s health.