TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With a commitment to addressing the impacts of climate change, Noah Valenstein was approved Tuesday by the Florida Cabinet to remain as the state’s top environmental official.
The unanimous vote by the Cabinet -- Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis -- supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recommendation to keep Valenstein as secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Former Gov. Rick Scott first appointed Valenstein to the $151,000-a-year job in May 2017.
Fried, the lone Democrat on the Cabinet, said she was encouraged by Valenstein’s commitment in recent talks to work on water-quality issues with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which she leads.
“We’ve got some major work and issues to address, like red tide and toxic blue algae, Lake Okeechobee releases, and so much more,” Fried said. “We’ve got to take a serious look at all state levels and to make plans for the threat of climate change and human contributions to our climate crisis.”
Valenstein said after the meeting that “climate change is certainly a large issue that Florida faces, and it’s something we’ve got some really talented staff working on.”
With the state facing issues during the past couple of years such as toxic algae blooms in waterways in Southeast Florida and Southwest Florida, Patronis praised Valenstein for his work after having been “thrown in the deep end of the pool” when elevated by Scott from the position of executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Valenstein and the Department of Environmental Protection also have been locked in a high-profile legal battle over a proposal to drill an exploratory oil well in the Everglades.
Valenstein and the department rejected a drilling permit sought by Broward County landowner Kanter Real Estate, LLC, but the 1st District Court of Appeal this month overturned the decision. The Department of Environmental Protection last week filed a request for a rehearing by the full appeals court.
Valenstein’s retention as department secretary was backed Tuesday by the Everglades Foundation, the Sierra Club Florida and Audubon. He told the Cabinet he’s been “very busy since January 8,” when DeSantis was sworn in.
“He really was a breath of fresh air when he took that position and I'm really optimistic about what he'll be able to accomplish with an administration like this one that's so focused on improving our wetlands and water quality,” said Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida.
By remaining in the role, Valenstein will help oversee a wide-ranging environmental plan DeSantis rolled out days after taking office.
The governor’s proposal calls for including $625 million in the 2019-2020 budget --- and $2.5 billion over the next four years --- for Everglades restoration and water resource protection.
Valenstein said work is already underway to create the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency and the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within the Department of Environmental Protection, both of which are part of DeSantis’ plan.
Valenstein, a lawyer who grew up in Alachua County, has also worked as a legislative lobbyist for the agency he now heads and as a deputy policy chief for the state House of Representatives. He also was the architect of Scott’s conservation platform during the former governor’s successful 2014 re-election bid.