Gov. Scott's DEP chief gains vote of confidence from senators
Gov. Rick Scott's chief environmental regulator, Jon Steverson, won a vote of confidence Wednesday from senators who rejected calls from the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters and others that he be ousted from his $150,000-a-year job.
Steverson, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, is one of several state agency heads who was not confirmed by the full Senate in 2015. If he's not confirmed in the 2016 session, he'll have to resign, but it appears that won't be a problem, despite an ongoing controversy over Steverson's plans to study expanding commercial activity in state parks, such as hunting and timber harvesting. DEP says timber harvesting is a form of resource management to thin out timber stocks to natural density or rid parks of non-native species.
"I'm here to tell you unequivocally today that (state parks) are not for sale," Steverson told senators, testifying under oath. "I'm not looking to surplus parks. I'm not looking to commercialize parks. And I'm not looking to ruin the park visitor experience."
He said he wants to improve management practices in state parks and use the private sector to do that, and he noted that commercial timber practices have been going on in more than 34 state parks since 2005, "long before I got here." He vowed that any change to existing park plans will be throughly vetted through a public planning process.
"I can assure you, no one will be firing high-powered rifles on Honeymoon Island," Steverson said. The popular state park in the North Pinellas County city of Dunedin is in the district of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said recently that allowing hunting in state parks is a "disaster waiting to happen."
David Cullen of Sierra Club Florida urged the Senate to deny Steverson's confirmation: "He would subvert the fundamental purpose of managing our state parks for the enjoyment of all citizens to one of economic development for the few. Floridians do not want hunting, cattle grazing or timber harvesting in their state parks."
Debra Harrison Rumberger of the League of Women Voters told senators that "our parks are not for profit. Not for plunder." She testified that "the morale of park volunteers is almost as low as that of DEP employees."
The Republican-controlled Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee confirmed Steverson on a 7 to 1 vote, with Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, voting no. Another Democrat, Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, voted to confirm Steverson.