Jon Steverson, who for two stormy years has led the state Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Rick Scott, resigned late Friday, effective Feb. 3.
Steverson, whose agency was criticized for not telling the public about a sinkhole at Mosaic’s Mulberry phosphate plant last year, made no public announcement about his resignation, and did not respond to a request for an interview.
His two-page resignation letter makes no mention of the sinkhole, nor of Steverson’s other controversies involving his call to allow hunting and other moneymaking activities at state parks, his replacement of experienced people with inexperienced ones and his push for new water quality standards that allow more cancer-causing chemicals to be dumped into the state’s waterways. The state Senate at first refused to approve him for the post in 2015, but later relented.
Instead, the letter focuses on the increased spending by Scott on Everglades restoration and saving the state’s springs. He also saluted Scott for pursuing a lawsuit against Georgia over the long-running Tri-State Water War.
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“It has truly been an honor to serve as secretary,” he wrote to Scott.
A spokesman for Scott said the governor did not force Steverson out over his handling of the sinkhole. Steverson kept the public — and Scott — in the dark for three weeks while the pond full of contaminated water atop the phosphogypsum stack drained into the region’s aquifer. Mosaic is still trying to recover all that water and plug the sinkhole. So far, no tests by DEP or Mosaic have turned up the contamination in any of the neighbors’ water wells, although three residents are suing.
“The secretary simply got a new opportunity in the private sector and decided to take advantage of it,” said Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis. He said he did not know what the opportunity might be. Steverson’s current salary is $150,000. So far, no one has been lined up as a replacement, Lewis said.
In December 2014, Scott picked Steverson to replace his first DEP secretary, Herschel Vinyard Jr., who had been a Jacksonville shipyard executive and former law partner of powerful ex-Sen. John Thrasher but had no prior experience at running a state agency or enforcing environmental regulations.
Unlike Vinyard, Steverson had experience with the agency and its issues, serving from 2011 to 2012 as special counsel on policy and legislative affairs as well as acting deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration. Scott then tapped him as the executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.