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Noah Valenstein, an architect of Gov. Rick Scott's conservation platform during the 2014 election, will be the only applicant who will be interviewed next week to become the state's environmental secretary.
Valenstein, currently the executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, was one of 142 applicants for the job of secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
During a meeting Wednesday of aides to Scott and state Cabinet members, Valenstein was the only candidate put forward to be interviewed for the $150,000-a-year post.
An agenda for Tuesday's meeting of Scott and the Cabinet —- Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and outgoing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater —- lists an item for “interview and appointment” of the Department of Environmental Protection secretary.
Unlike most agency heads who answer only to the governor, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection falls under Scott and the Cabinet.
Ryan Matthews has been the interim secretary since former Secretary Jon Steverson left in February for a job with Foley & Lardner, a legal and lobbying firm.
Matthews, who worked as a deputy secretary before moving into the interim role, was among those applying for the secretary job.
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and a prominent environmental lobbyist, said Matthews would have been a good choice. But Draper added that for an agency that needs strong leadership to enforce its policies, Valenstein has a “great reputation” and “the potential to be one of our best environmental secretaries.”
“Noah did a really good job for Scott in 2014 in terms of burnishing the governor's environmental credentials,” Draper said. “I certainly would hope that Noah's not going to go over to just be part of the campaign, but I think running an environmental agency is a lot different than running the environmental policy office in the governor's office.”
Before being named to run the water management district in October 2015, Valenstein spent nearly three years as Scott's policy coordinator for energy, agriculture and environment. Valenstein's time in the executive office was briefly interrupted in 2014 when he went to work as policy consultant on environmental budget and policy issues for the Scott campaign.
“I have built a reputation of bringing diverse groups together to overcome obstacles and work toward shared goals,” Valenstein wrote in a cover letter accompanying his application to Scott and the Cabinet for the secretary's job. “This skill is especially valuable as we work to address Florida's natural resources challenges and provide innovative solutions that meet the needs of the public while ensuring the protection and sustainability of our resources.”
Two months after Valenstein joined Scott's re-election effort, the governor rolled out a $1 billion, 10-year environmental blueprint that lined up in places with the "Florida Water and Land Legacy" constitutional amendment approved that year by voters.
Scott's funding proposal sought $150 million a year to preserve sensitive lands, $50 million a year for alternative water-supply projects and another $50 million a year for natural springs restoration. But unlike the constitutional amendment, Scott's proposal didn't lock lawmakers into having to approve money in the state budget for such things as land conservation, protecting water resources or helping the Everglades.
Valenstein, who grew up in Alachua County, got his undergraduate degree in environmental policy from the University of Florida and a law degree at Florida State University.
Valenstein has also worked as a legislative lobbyist for the Department of Environmental Protection, as a deputy policy chief with the state House and as director of legislative affairs for the Everglades Foundation.