After less than six months, Florida’s first chief resilience officer, the person tasked with helping the state survive climate change, is leaving.
Julia Nesheiwat, Florida’s Chief Resilience Officer, has been hired as a homeland security advisor for President Donald Trump, as Politico first reported and two sources familiar with the appointment confirmed with the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.
Nesheiwat has an extensive military background. Before she took the job in Florida, she was the deputy special envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department. She served two tours — in Afghanistan and Iraq — as a U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer and had a seat on the U.S. Presidential Commission on Intelligence Capabilities Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
She was hired by Gov. Ron DeSantis in her role for Florida in August. In her short time with the governor’s office, Nesheiwat met with officials in charge of sea level rise adaptation across the state and told them she was developing an adaptation plan for Florida.
For many advocates and planners across Florida, Nesheiwat’s arrival last summer was a reason to hope state leaders’ aversion to climate change policy was ending. She was coming off a stint as a deputy special envoy for hostage affairs at the U.S. State Department and had a military background, an arena to which it would seem she is now returning. But she had also worked on energy policy.
Last August, Nesheiwat appeared at a workshop in Tampa and on the subject of climate change said plainly: “It’s here. It’s real.”
In Florida, most work on adaptation and sustainability has happened at the local or regional level, advocates say, with scant leadership from the state.
Nesheiwat told the Tampa Bay Times she wanted to unite the regional efforts and make the state a “one-stop shop” for best practices. She imagined Florida one day being a national leader, with a thriving technology industry built around flood modeling and risk management.
It’s unclear how she will hand off those plans or what advice she has given the governor.
The week after the news broke, the Governor’s spokeswoman Helen Helen Aguirre Ferré told the Miami Herald that Noah Valenstein, head of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, will assume Nesheiwat’s duties and responsibilities for the time being. DeSantis is also considering the “efficiency” of having both a Chief Science Officer and a Chief Resilience Officer as he contemplates refilling Nesheiwat’s position.
“The governor is looking at how that is structured,” Ferré said.
Nesheiwat said she provided a six-month report to DeSantis around beginning of January. The Times asked for a copy of that report on Jan. 7. A governor’s office employee said the records were compiled by Jan. 15, but DeSantis’ open government staff has not yet provided the report, saying it’s undergoing legal review.
The Legislature this session has signaled early approval for a number of bills that concern climate change. One would have made Nesheiwat’s position permanent in an Office of Resiliency under the governor. The same bill would set up a state sea-level rise task force.
CJ Reynolds, director of resilience and engagement at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, said she hopes the state launches a national search to find someone qualified for the job.
“I think that Gov. DeSantis has committed to these larger initiatives and he’s going to look for a person who has tremendous background like Julia did,” she said. “It’s going to be a short-term setback is what I would hope.”
Times/Herald Tallahassee staff writer Emily L. Mahoney and Miami Herald staff writer Monique O. Madan contributed to this report.