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Florida’s top environmental official, Noah Valenstein, is resigning

He has led the Department of Environmental Protection for four years. He is stepping down as of June 4.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein will step down as the state's top environmental official on June 4.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein will step down as the state's top environmental official on June 4. [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 27, 2021|Updated May 27, 2021

Florida’s top environmental official is stepping down.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein’s resignation is effective June 4, according to a letter he sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The letter was dated May 8.

Valenstein’s roughly four years leading the agency began under DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott.

“It has been an honor to head Florida’s lead environmental agency during a time where natural resource protection has been a top priority, with unprecedented support and advancements,” he wrote in his letter.

Shawn Hamilton, the department’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, will become interim secretary.

Valenstein is on leave through the holiday weekend and will return next week, said department spokesperson Dee Ann Miller. She said he was not available for comment Thursday.

He previously served as an environmental policy aide for Scott, who was governor from 2011-19 and is now one of the state’s U.S. Senators. Valenstein was also executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District and director of legislative affairs for the Everglades Foundation.

Related: Noah Valenstein keeps job as chief of Florida’s environmental agency

Valenstein is the latest top official to leave DeSantis’ administration this year. Those who departed earlier include Jared Moskowitz, the emergency management director; Shane Strum, the governor’s chief of staff; Jonathan Satter, secretary of the Department of Management Services; Chad Poppell, secretary of the Department of Children and Families; and Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Mary Mayhew, who led the Agency for Health Care Administration, resigned in October.

After Florida’s first ever chief resilience officer left her position last year, DeSantis added her responsibilities to Valenstein’s duties as environmental protection secretary.

Related: After first one left, will DeSantis hire another Florida climate change leader?

“He has played a critical role in the environmental movement that is now underway in our state and know that he will continue to be a strong partner in protecting Florida’s environment,” wrote Taryn Fenske, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement Thursday.

Valenstein has recently served as public face of the agency’s response to the wastewater leak at the former Piney Point phosphate plant site in Tampa Bay. He promised to drain contaminated water from the property and has questioned prior decision-making by the state agency, which for years managed Piney Point through a court-appointed receiver before the latest private owner took over.

Related: Failure at Piney Point: Florida let environmental risk fester despite warnings

In his resignation letter, Valenstein said he was proud of his work on Everglades restoration and creating a Blue-Green Algae Task Force, along with passing the Clean Waterways Act in 2020 and a measure that increased penalties for sewage spills around the state.

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“I can confidently say that DEP has never been better situated to protect Florida’s environment than it is today,” he wrote.

Valenstein did not provide a specific reason for leaving, writing that “it is time for me to step back and DEP to move forward with implementation under a new leader.” He indicated he would continue “to serve in the environmental community.”

The Department of Environmental Protection provided comments from leaders of the Everglades Foundation, Audubon Florida and The Nature Conservancy in Florida in support of Valenstein’s work.

The soon-to-be interim secretary, Hamilton, joined the environmental agency in 2007. He was appointed deputy secretary for land and recreation this year, after a stint as an interim leader. He was also the agency’s environmental justice coordinator, according to a state biography. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Troy State University, with a minor in business.

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.


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