The Phoenix Flyer

Fried to DeSantis: State’s top environmental appointment is not his call to make

By: - September 1, 2021 10:22 am

Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Secretary Nikki Fried, at right, challenged Gov. Ron DeSantis during a Florida Cabinet meeting on June 15, 2021. Screenshot/Florida Channel

Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat, a Cabinet member, and a gubernatorial contender, wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis late Tuesday cautioning that the appointment of a secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is not entirely up to the governor.

Earlier Tuesday, DeSantis announced that interim secretary Shawn Hamilton, who stepped in when former Secretary Noah Valenstein announced his resignation in May, would permanently head the DEP.

“As I reminded the governor in June, he lacks the legal authority to unilaterally make this appointment. State law is very clear: It requires the unanimous approval of the Cabinet, in addition to confirmation by the Florida Senate,” Fried wrote. She said she has met and interviewed Hamilton and has no “quarrel” with him but wants full deliberation on filling the vital post.

“Given the red tide environmental and public health emergency, given the serious issues facing over two dozen phosphogypsum stacks like Piney Point, and given DEP’s direct enforcement on thousands of BMP [agricultural water-quality] cases my agency has referred, circumventing the appropriate process belittles the urgency of the crises facing our state,” she wrote.

Of equal importance, she said, is that DeSantis obey the law and not claim power that may not be his.

At a June 15 meeting of the governor and the three Cabinet members — Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — DeSantis and Fried, both attorneys, clashed over whether the governor may install an environmental secretary without Cabinet approval.

The Florida Constitution and Florida statutes allow room for debate, as explained in this Phoenix report.

DeSantis’ appointment of Hamilton would be a done deal if it requires only confirmation by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who will side with the Republican governor. If it requires unanimous approval by the three-member Cabinet, the appointment will surely run into scrutiny, at least by Fried, the lone Democrat among the three.

Fried, whose department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs routinely addresses environmental issues, has made clear she believes the post of environmental secretary is one of the most vital in state government, given Florida’s worsening problems with water pollution, sea-level rise and climate change.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]