The head of the state’s environmental agency visited a gathering of Sarasota business leaders to tout Gov. Rick Scott’s environmental successes.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary Noah Valenstein said he expected it to be a busy year as Scott has called for $1.7 billion for environmental projects in the next state budget. During the Argus Foundation luncheon at the Sarasota Yacht Club on Tuesday, he discussed how his department was “focused on partnerships” between state and local entities to tackle environmental projects whether it was the effort to save Celery Fields or improving water quality at the Everglades.
“It’s one thing to preserve an ecosystem or restore an ecosystem. It’s a great challenge, it’s a difficult challenge and certainly we have plenty of those challenges around Florida,” he said. “But in the scheme of things, that’s simple. The real challenge is the thing that makes Florida so special … is when you’re able to do that in the context of a growing economy, a vibrant community, rural landscapes with vibrant agricultural industry. That’s the amazing thing.”
Valenstein took the group on a trip down memory lane of the past seven years, highlighting the governor’s insistence on $100 million for state parks and the Florida Forever land buying fund, and $355 million for Everglades restoration in the 2018-19 budget. The department has worked on 145 springs projects in that time and will welcome Gilchrist Blue Springs as its 175th state park this Friday.
He has been at the helm of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for eight months, following a nearly five-year stint as Scott’s energy, agriculture and environment policy coordinator. He also led the Suwannee River Water Management District.
With reporters after his speech, in addressing a proposal being discussed in the legislature to move the responsibility of federal wetlands permitting to his department, Valenstein said that it could only move forward if the state was as stringent or more so in its protections.
“The environment in Florida is part of everything we do. And the most important thing that we’re focused on is partnerships,” he told reporters. “Working with our communities to make sure those are moving forward in protecting our environment for future generations and we’re doing it in a way that achieves everything that community wants to see as it moves forward.”