Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet unanimously tapped Ryan Matthews to serve as interim secretary for the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection.

Matthews will take over the agency while a search for a permanent leader takes place over the next three months.

  • Florida DEP interim secretary is Ryan Matthews
  • Outgoing Secretary Jon Steverson resigned, effect Feb. 3
  • Steverson was criticized for his handling of algae bloom, sinkhole

Ryan Matthews is a DEP official, currently the director for the Office of Water Policy. He also worked as the deputy secretary for regulatory programs. 

The outgoing Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection Secretary, Jon Steverson, had been Scott's favored candidate when he was appointed to the post in 2015.

In the months since, Steverson has weathered intense criticism over his proposals to open state parks to commercial logging and hunting.

Last summer's dual environmental crises -- a runoff-induced toxic algae bloom in South Florida and the discovery of a toxic sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry -- led environmentalists to lambast Steverson and his agency for what they deemed inadequate responses.

Steverson, however, isn't the first Scott-backed agency head to depart under a cloud of controversy. The cabinet, a board consisting of Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has increasingly shown a proclivity for overruling the governor on his suggested successors. The search for a new DEP secretary could follow that pattern.

Given the continued algae bloom threat and the complexity of a voter-mandated water infrastructure improvement program, cabinet members are likely to look for candidates with deep experience in environmental policymaking.

"It's bigger than one black cat actor," said Putnam at a gathering of state government reporters and editors this week. "And we need leadership to bring us all together instead of wedge us apart, to finish the projects that have been put in place dating back 20 years now."