DEP Email: Stay ‘On Message’ When It Comes to Sea-Level Rise

Part of an email exchange in which DEP employees instruct a staff member not to talk about the cause of sea-level rise in a documentary film.

By Tristram Korten
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

An email exchange among Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees responding to a media request to talk about sea-level rise hints that the department had a message that had to be adhered to when it came to the cause.

On April 25, 2014, Michael Shirley, a regional administrator with the DEP’s Florida Coastal Office, asked supervisors for permission to appear in a National Geographic/Audubon documentary about sea-level rise.

Pamela King Phillips, the coastal office’s external affairs administrator, replied: “Approved. Make no claims as to cause…stay with the research you are doing, of course.”

Then Phillips alerted other DEP officials, including the media relations office in Tallahassee: “I’ve worked with Mike on these issues before and he will be on message. Patrician knows to facilitate, but if you want me to be more hands on with this because of the sensitivity, I will. Pls let me know.”

The emails, obtained through a public records request, were provided to both the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and Greenpeace, which also posted a story about the exchange.

The emails contribute to FCIR’s disclosure that the DEP had an unofficial policy suppressing use of the terms “climate change” and “global warming” within the department. The DEP and the governor’s office have denied any such policy, unofficial or otherwise.

Read the Email