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A single candidate scores interview for DEP top job: Noah Valenstein

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Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will interview a single candidate for the vacant secretary slot at the Department of Environmental Regulation — Noah Valenstein, a former environmental aide to the governor.

His was the only name put forward for an interview during a meeting of aides to the governor and Cabinet Wednesday morning.

“The governor would like to schedule an interview with Noah Valenstein,” Scott aide Kristin Olson said.

“If there’s anybody else that any other principal would like to be interviewed, let us know and we’ll make sure they’re there,” Olson asked the aides flanking her in the Cabinet meeting room.

None piped up with a nomination.

“My sense from checking in with the Cabinet leaders is that they knew Noah was likely to be the candidate and were comfortable with it,” Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, told reporters following the meeting.

In fact, Draper had lobbied for Valenstein.

“I think Noah’s a great choice,” he said.

“I’ve worked with him a long time. He was part of the conservation community at one time. We lobbied together up here. He’s got a great reputation,” he said.

Left on the shelf is interim secretary Ryan Matthews. He’s been running the agency since Jon Steverson quit in January to join the legal-lobbying firm of Foley & Lardner.

Draper described Matthews as “a really good guy” who “would have been a good choice, also.”

The Audubon chief praised Valenstein for his work at Suwanee River.

“We’ve seen a change in the tone over there since he’s been the executive director. Noah’s really demonstrated his leadership skills. I think he has the potential to be one of our best environmental secretaries.”

Valenstein is closely tied to Scott, having served in the administration and the 2014 re-election campaign. With Scott likely poised to run for U.S. Senate, are they too close?

“I certainly would hope that Noah’s not coming over to just be part of a campaign. Running an environmental agency is a lot different that running the environmental policy office in the governor’s office,” Draper said.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important for the success of our conservation mission than good leadership at DEP,” he added.

“If that leadership is focused on getting the agency to enforce the laws, and to come up with a water plan for the state, which we desperately need, and to get the land acquisition program moving again, I think that DEP can be what people expect it to be.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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