Former Rick Scott aide named Florida's environmental chief


With Gov. Rick Scott describing him as “passionate about the environment,” Noah Valenstein was named Tuesday as Florida's next environmental secretary after a short interview with Scott and members of the state Cabinet.

Valenstein, a former Scott aide who is executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, will take over at the Department of Environmental Protection on June 5.

Valenstein was the only one of more than 140 applicants to be interviewed by Scott and the Cabinet for the job.

“We had a very outstanding candidate in Noah, someone who is well known to the Cabinet,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. “He's led the Suwannee water management district, he has been a member of the governor's staff. So it wasn't as if we were bringing someone in from a different state that people needed to get to know.”

Scott and the Cabinet —- Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater —- agreed to pay Valenstein $150,000 a year, the same salary as former Secretary Jon Steverson.

Steverson left in February for a job with Foley & Lardner, a legal and lobbying firm.

Unlike most agency heads who answer only to the governor, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection falls under Scott and the Cabinet.

Valenstein said after the meeting he wants to bring the “philosophy I've had at Suwannee River” to the state department.

“The issues are the same everywhere,” said Valenstein, who grew up in Alachua County. “All Floridians care about the environment, it's the underpinning of what makes the state such a great place to live.”

Anna Upton, outside general counsel for the Everglades Foundation, said she expects Valenstein to do well because of his background with environmental law and the inner workings of state agencies.

“He understands that people come to the state of Florida for our beaches, for our springs, for our national parks, our state parks, and of course the Everglades,” Upton said.

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 the environment.

Valenstein's time in the governor's office was briefly interrupted in 2014 when he went to work as policy consultant on Scott's re-election campaign.

Scott described Valenstein during the Cabinet meeting as “very passionate about the environment, and he also works well with others. So I think that's why he did so well at Suwannee.”

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.

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.

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