An employee at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was asked to take a leave of absence after using the term “climate change” during an official meeting.
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting found that Gov. Rick Scott has banned the use of the term, along with "global warming," in "official communications, emails, or reports."
Barton Bibler, who works as a land management plan coordinator for the Department of Environmental Protection, told the Miami Herald that he was unaware of the rule. When Bibler attended the Florida Coastal Managers Forum on March 2, he praised state employees for their efforts to draw attention to the impact of climate change. He also expressed his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline project.
A representative of the Department of Environmental Protection told BuzzFeed News that in doing so, Bibler violated three standards of conduct: Poor performance, insubordination, and behavior unbecoming of an employee.
The department's representative, Mara Burger, told BuzzFeed News in an email that "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."
Burger added that Bibler failed to provide a detailed summary of the Florida Coastal Managers Forum, and instead submitted "an attachment with the 'Keystone XL Pipeline' with a red circle and a cross through it."
When asked about Florida Center for Investigative Reporting's discovery of an unwritten rule that forbids state employees from using terms like "climate change" or "global warming," Burger told BuzzFeed News "there is no such policy. It is not true."
In a statement from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Bibler was given an official reprimand on March 9 for his statement during the manager's forum and was "told not to return to work for two days, which would be charged against his personal leave time."
Bibler was also given a medical release form with his brief suspension. In order to return to work, he will have to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine his "fitness for duty," the Guardian reported.
The DEP could not confirm this, as they are not allowed to discuss an employee's health.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Bibler and the Florida Coastal Management Program for comment.
The Sunshine State has been closely associated with the national debate on global warming. Some scientists believe it to be most vulnerable to climate change, which could result in a rise in sea levels, bringing damage to 30% of state's beaches over the next 85 years, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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