State top environmental officer resigns
Valenstein lead efforts to mitigate Piney Point disaster
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein is exiting next week after running the agency for four years under two governors.
Shawn Hamilton, currently the state agency’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, will become Florida’s interim environmental secretary on June 4, the department confirmed on Thursday.
Hamilton has been with the Department of Environmental Protection since 2007, starting as a public affairs manager in the agency’s Northwest District Office and moving to assistant district director in 2010 and district director in 2011. Hamilton was promoted to the deputy director position last year.
A press release from the department noted that Hamilton has worked as the agency’s environmental justice coordinator, providing statewide guidance on sensitive environmental justice issues, and as the primary state liaison for the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Justice.
Valenstein was a familiar face and voice to people on the Suncoast during the recent crisis at the former fertilizer processing plant at Piney Point. He was a constant at news conferences when a leak in one of the phosphogypsum stacks threatened to burst and send millons of gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay.
Valenstein vowed the state will be holding people accountable. “Stay tuned for updates on our litigation. We look forward to making our case in court.”
He said his office will make every effort to hold folks accountable. “Everyone scratches their heads. What made sense to have HRK come in and do this a decade ago. How did that happen? The more I learn, the less I understand it,” he said.
The DEP press release praised Valenstein’s successor’s expertise. “Shawn had provided effective leadership, incident command, and focused recovery during multiple large-scale natural and industrial emergencies to include Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, International Paper Mill Explosion and Hurricanes Irma and Michael,” the release said.
The release also included comments from Audubon Florida, the Everglades Foundation and The Nature Conservancy praising both Valenstein and Hamilton.
“Shawn’s reputation for collaboration and science-based decision-making will serve him, the agency, and Florida well,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell said in the release.
Valenstein advised Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 8 that he was stepping down, but didn’t provide specific information about his future plans.
“I look forward to continuing to serve in the environmental community and am excited to see the next steps as this environmental movement continues!” Valenstein wrote in a letter to DeSantis that touched on Everglades restoration, Florida Forever land acquisition projects, coastal resiliency efforts and the fight against blue-green algae outbreaks.
Valenstein wrote that, with the largest environmental budget in state history secured, it was time for him to step back.
“I know the agency can and will maintain this momentum under the new DEP secretary,” Valenstein wrote.
Valenstein also took on the responsibilities of the state’s chief resilience officer after Julia Nesheiwat left a year ago to become deputy assistant for homeland security and resilience in President Donald Trump’s administration.
Valenstein, who was initially appointed to the $155,530-a-year job by former Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017, was reappointed two years later by DeSantis. Both appointments required and received the support of the Florida Cabinet, comprised of Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Valenstein, a lawyer who grew up in Alachua County, has also worked as a legislative lobbyist for the agency he now heads and as a deputy policy chief for the state House of Representatives. He also was the architect of Scott’s conservation platform during the former governor’s successful 2014 re-election bid.
Valenstein is the latest to depart from DeSantis’ administration as the governor surpassed the midpoint of his four-year term in office.
Kevin Guthrie has replaced Jared Moskowitz as director of the state Division of Emergency Management. Shane Strum, the governor’s former chief of staff, has left to become chief executive officer at the North Broward Hospital District, one of the largest public-hospital districts in the nation.
Also departing recently are former Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, who was put in charge of the state’s troubled unemployment-compensation system in the spring of 2020, and former Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell.
Halsey Beshears stepped down as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in January, pointing to health issues. Former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew resigned in October to head the Florida Hospital Association.
-- The ABC7 digital desk contributed to this story
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