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Ryan Matthews

Water For Fighting
Water For Fighting
Ryan Matthews

In his second-to-last episode of the season, Brett sits down with attorney, lobbyist, and former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection – Ryan Matthews. They discuss his family’s deep roots in Upstate New York; the example left behind by a renowned attorney and lobbyist father; the joys and challenges of leadership; and his flirtation with a life of crime.

To learn more about Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, go here: https://floridadep.gov/water/submerged-lands-environmental-resources-coordination/content/state-404-program

To learn more about the Central Florida Water Initiative, check here: https://cfwiwater.com and here: https://floridadep.gov/water-policy/water-policy/content/central-florida-water-initiative-cfwi

To reach Ryan at his law firm, Gray-Robinson, head here: https://www.gray-robinson.com/offices/tallahassee-fl

You can email Ryan directly here: Ryan.matthews@gray-robinson.com

Our theme song is “Doing Work For Free”, by Bo Spring Band (Apple Music) (Spotify) (Pandora)

Welcome to  Water for Fighting, where we discuss the past, present, and future of water in Florida with the people that make it happen. I’m your host, Brett Cypherz. As we get into the last two episodes of the first season here at Water for Fighting, I like us to close out with individuals who I think are really going to grab your attention. And that’s why I think it’s so fitting that today’s guest is one of the most well-liked and respected environmental lobbyists working in Tallahassee today. And that’s Ryan Matthews. I had the privilege of getting to know Ryan over a decade ago when he was making his first as the director of office water policy and eventually as a DEP secretary. He would go on to use his skills to represent some of the largest utilities, local governments, professional associations and businesses in the state and is now doing that as a shareholder for the highly regarded Gray Robinson law firm. Now on to the conversation. Welcome to the podcast, Ryan. Oh, are you sure? Thanks. Out of nine guests now that I’ve had on the show, nearly all of them are either from here or somewhere else in Florida. or somewhere other all together and you fit in that last part. You’re from New York, right? I am upstate New York. So, you know, most people see 95% of New York is New York City. I am from CalPastor, Troy, New York. Okay. And so is that the deal is I’ve known people from New York City and that, and basically every place it’s not New York City is, is upstate, right? Is that kind of the deal? Effectively. Yeah. But you’re actually up the state. Upstate. I mean, you know, side of the capital Albany. So the home of Uncle Sam. No big deal. Oh, there’s an actual Uncle Sam. There’s an actual Uncle Sam. Oh, wow. Yeah. Very. There you go. New Saliva. So your mommy and dad are both from Troy, correct? They are as well as I mean, really, the entirety of my extended family is from Troy, New York. So my parents met when they were about 10 years old. at 12. So that’s how it is in New York then. That’s how it is. How do I say small town? I mean small town. Tell me about what, and that’s interesting. I’m like that they, you know, from 12 years old, that’s a huge deal. That doesn’t happen often anymore. It’s a unique story. They lived a couple blocks away from each other. So obviously in elementary school or grade school, if you’re a northerner, they met and, you know, started dating at 12. They took one year off of their relationship from being together. And that was till the time my dad passed at 61, we’re together from 12 years old. Wow. So you said your entire extended family is from Troy. What brought your mom and dad down to Florida then? I mean, the short answer is winter. That’s kind of something that is pretty harsh up there. My dad played quarterback. He was a five, nine quarterback at the University of Rochester. managed to escape Troy for a short period of time. And then he decided to go to law school. And he decided to go to law school at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. And we can get into the issues that caused me as a child later on. But, you know, Escape in New York, they decided to go to Miami. My mom was a registered nurse down there. You know, you’re talking late 70s, early 80s. So from a, you know, health perspective, you’re talking about emergence of HIV and sort of the civil unrest in Miami at the time. I have some great stories about things that occurred. But yeah, it was literally, let’s go to law school. My mom, who was always his partner, said, absolutely, let’s go to Florida. Wow. So he was the one person in the entire Matthews family that figured out that winter is horrible in New York. They all seem to embrace it. Now, you moved down. I think you said eight months old. Is that right? I was eight months. So Born there my dad then took the bar here in Florida And I think while he was sort of looking for next steps I stayed in New York with my mom So he was on sort of this original path that was not you know environmental law And I have a quick story about that. That’s pretty funny. So He was a 3L at the University of Miami last year law school. Had a fairly prominent internship if you will with a criminal defense attorney down there. And this one client just happened to be a you know high-ranking member of a certain drug cartel that they were going to federal court. Ultimately win the case that they were representing this group of gentlemen on and they come home to their really small apartment in a bad area town you know, boxes of chocolates and dozens of roses that are in their apartment. And my mother said, if you represent these people and they know where you live, you’re gonna do something else. So criminal law very quickly became environmental law. Yeah, I hear my dad was in the IRS in the early to late 70s out of Miami, the Miami office, and and my mom did not enjoy his tenure down there, which is why we ended So what was little Ryan Matthews like? You grew up here in Tallahassee though, right? I grew up in Tallahassee. I mean, so when we moved, my dad met Wade Hopping probably early, 1981. We moved to Tallahassee shortly thereafter, probably latter part of that year. So I spent a majority of my life here. Young Ryan Matthews was sports obsessed living in Tallahassee. I mean, we had sort of, conference basketball, FSU basketball. We had, you know, fantastic FSU football at the time. So if there was a baseball, basketball, or football game going on, I was there. How on earth does that work at this point? So you’re from New York, you’re family bills, fans. It’s like, how does the sports dynamic work in the Matthews house? Cause your dad is, University Miami law. Abbot hurricane family. fighting what’s of University of Rochester? It’s a good question, I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably why if I have nine quarter back could actually play football. So not a lot on TV, so I mean Miami though, however. And that’s how it was when you were growing up, was all University of Miami, is that the? Pushed on me from my father, which I rejected outright. I mean, I was a diehard and am a diehard Seminole fan. It may be just in spite of sort of his actual fandom of the University of Miami. So. the relationship that I created, I mean, you can imagine me in my, you know, 10, 11, 12 years old, white right one, two, and three, where I’ve got a father, and for those who knew my father, was not shy about rubbing it in my face that, you know, I just had my heart crushed because we missed another field goal to the right. I think that sort of, you know, it spurned or caused our relationship to be quite dynamic from the start. But I mean, in terms of a North versus South sports relationship, I mean, obviously, it’s much more professional sports related up there. I’ve got family, you know, split in between being Mets and Yankees fans, a lot of New York giant fans. But so college football and the passion that we have down here for college football, I think it’s missing up there. Yeah. Unless you’re a big Syracuse fan, I’m not. was the basketball. You can, they can survive it with that. I have a friend who’s a Syracuse fan, but she’s also a Florida State fan, but she went to the University of Central Florida just to give you an idea of how weird it gets. And we’re gonna get to that in a little bit, cause we’ll have to come, I think we’re gonna have to come back to the sports part when we get to a little bit later when you’re college career, cause you get, you throw all of this giant curveball in there. But I wanna talk about still, you’re a kid, you love sports, is hilarious. By the way, it’s like your dad was for a guy that’s setting up as a litigator. He kind of ended up lobbying like that. I thought it was interesting that you mentioned that because he was one of my favorite people to hear because he was so passionate. He was always grinding at an issue and really passionate about it. So that was an interesting nugget I didn’t expect there. So let’s get back to you as a kid though. Sure. You played baseball. Is that your big one? Did you play like a lot of kids you play a bunch? I played everything. Baseball was the most consistent and it was year round for me, which was a little bit different back then. I mean, this was sort of the onset of travel baseball. Now, you know, every eight year old has a travel something team. Things have changed quite a bit. But yeah, I played baseball year round all my life. So what position did you play? What was your main position? Like what got you to pick past high school travel ball? catcher so I hit left-handed but I threw right-handed and my father used to say that he did not teach me to hit left-handed I simply picked up a bat and hit left-handed and if you can you can do that NBA catcher you’re generally in pretty high demand. Yeah I mean I that always seems to be the way especially when you you know in the in the earlier ranks is no one’s no one’s hitting left I mean where you find a left-handed hitter a left-handed pitcher they’re like gold. That’s just it I mean the vast of kids are throwing the ball right handed from a pitching standpoint. So if you can be left handed, you’ve got to just sort of a one on one. Yeah, curve balls out. And so you ended up in playing baseball at Santa Fe College and that’s in Gainesville, right? It is. It is. I had very briefly attempted to walk on at Florida State University where I attended my freshman year, but realized that that might have been a different caliber player at that point. I saw that in the bio. And my assumption was you go to Santa Fe because you want to try to walk on at UF. But it was used tried floor state and then went to Santa Fe. Yeah, so coming out of high school, I probably had a number of opportunities to play. At Small Division I, a lot of Division II baseball programs was struggling as many 18 year olds do about, you know, what does their future hold? What do they wanna do? How much do they really love? What they love at the time? And I made the decision, you know what? I’m going to try to walk on an FSU, don’t really love baseball, probably played it too much up until that point. And then I think the heartbreak of not making FSU’s team, which I watched all my life, I kind of said, well, maybe I do really like baseball. And so Sanfe was an easy choice. When you say the idea of not making it, is that is not getting drafted or not playing at a… division one school. It’s probably both simultaneously. You know, realizing that just because you were really good in high school doesn’t mean that you’re going to be really good at the best college program or that you’re ultimately going to become a professional baseball player like so many you know, five, six, seven, eight year old boys want. Yeah. So when you’re faced with that reality it was sort of alright well let me play junior college baseball for a couple years, have fun, but also you know, at about 20 say to wake up at 5 a.m. to lift weights and run. Maybe I can just drink beer like a normal college kid. But at that point then, let’s get to the psychology of the decision making at this point. Sure. Your dad’s a University of Miami grad. You grew up a Florida state fan. You got a Santa Fe to play college, perfectly natural thing to do under your circumstances. And then now, help me with the logic train of instead of going back to Tallahassee for the big, you know, the major colleges in Florida, University of Florida, do undergrad. Is that right? It’s true. Well, I mean, a couple of things, right? I was already in Gainesville, so easy transition there. And I love Tallahassee, and I’ve always liked Tallahassee, but it is, for me, it was important to spend time elsewhere and just get to know a different place. And I love Gainesville. Gainesville, the town, is so much fun, kid but my allegiance to Florida State never never waned. Was that was that weird down there you’re going to school in a place where and they’re you know lively. They’re lively. I was pretty vocal about it probably because I was just that you know young guy who wanted to maybe cause some some issues so I proudly wore my Florida State stuff on campus and surprisingly never got punched in the face. That’s yeah. Well you didn’t get punched but you did start a life of crime there. Or is that when the life of crime is there? I dipped my toe, I dipped my toe. Tell me about that. It must feel either vindicating or hilarious or something now because there’s a thousand after market ticket sale services where you can buy yourself tickets however you wish. Yeah, there is. There wasn’t at the time. So we had a really good setup where, you know, for those who attended the University of Florida, we had a house with five guys, caddy corner to the law school. So you’re talking, you know, steps away from the swamp. And you mentioned the liveliness of Gainesville and the students there. So, you know, 2001, UF’s got a good football team. I mean, we’re talking like Rex Grossman days for those who, you know, remember college football well. Tennessee was in town, which east rivalry. You know look, college students get tickets for basically free. And if there was an opportunity to make some money on those tickets, young Ryan Matthews was gonna take advantage of that opportunity. So we had had a tailgate early on in the morning for this big night game as we were want to do. A van with a gentleman with a cardboard sign that said I need tickets hanging out, pulled up into the driveway and I said let’s let’s enter into a transaction my tickets. Turns out that gentleman was an undercover cop. And at the time, scalping tickets was illegal. So yeah, I pleaded no contest to ticket scalping violation. Thankfully, I’m still, you know, statute of limitations or whatnot has passed. I’m okay. I’m gonna say we can put in a word with the governor, try to get that expunge for you. So you graduate after your time in foreign territory at the University of Florida. law school, how much of that is related to your father’s practice? Initially, none of it. I was actually adamantly opposed to doing what my father did. And that’s not a shot in any way, shape, or form. It’s actually the opposite. I revered what my father did and I saw how well respected he was. And I thought, by walking in his shoes, I number one didn’t want to get accused of getting anything because of who he was right or what he did But number two, I also just said why would I want to become an environmental lawyer? It doesn’t make any sense to me at the time right so I was working in DC on the Hill and I was working for Senator Bill Nelson at the time and My father called me And he said listen, you know you’re doing good things. That’s fantastic fact that you’re working for a Democrat in DC. If you want to always for the rest of your professional career work for Democrats then stay in the job you’re in. And I said, well that doesn’t sound like a great idea. Maybe I should do something different. Maybe I should go to law school and that was law school. Wow. And you’re right. It’s like it is a tough thing because your dad was so well respected and so good at his job. I guess to maybe credit and yours. I didn’t know that the two of you were related until I don’t know you’d been around a little while or at least I’d you’d been around me a little while. I was like oh well that you know that sort of makes sense you know there but I assumed okay well Frank’s an environmental attorney and and lobbyist so obviously that’s what Ryan’s gonna want to do but but it always seems to be the the story is always a little more complicated than that so yeah it wasn’t obvious to me it was only that I got into law school and I think is most students do when they first matriculate, it’s okay. I don’t wanna be a prosecutor. I really don’t wanna litigate. I don’t wanna do family law. My goodness, that’s heartbreaking. So I started checking boxes and it was, back to the sports obsessed 10 year old, should Ryan become an agent? That’d be cool. But then I took water law class and I took a couple of environmental law classes and thought, all right, I kinda dig this. But to that end, I’m like knowing that you didn’t want to necessarily go into it be an environmental attorney or maybe an attorney at all. But did did junior your dad talk about that sort of thing when you were your younger issues he was working on, you know, client stuff? So yes and no. I think a lot of it was sort of the I always say I kind of picked it up through osmosis, which is, you know, completely incorrect scientific term. how I envision the process playing out as a kid. We talked about what he did. My memories of him, you know, especially early on, are constantly talking into a dictaphone. He generally was always present. For as hard as he worked, he was always present. There was rarely a baseball game that he missed. And so because of that, you know, my most vivid memories of a child are him, you know, in bed at night with just papers scattered everywhere until like two in the morning working. So we talked about it, but mainly it was because he represented, you know, folks like Disney and Mosaic and was part of really cool projects, you know, like permitting nuclear power plants. So even though most kids have the, you know, don’t really care what my dad does type attitude, I was always at least interested in on some of the stuff he was he was working on. Yeah. You mentioned that him being present even in the midst of that. And it is a hectic lifestyle that he led that you lead now. Did that carry over? It’s always, you’ve always struck me as one of the folks here who is actually married to their wife and actually has a family that they enjoy and not the other way around. Is that true? Yes, definitively. I would say that, and I learned that from my dad. Constantly on the go constantly busy constantly taking client calls But he was when he was with us. He was present And it’s something that I hope I mean I’ve got a 10 year old daughter an eight year old son Been married for almost 13 years, you know, it’s something that I try to emulate the best that I can because yeah, it’s nice to Love your wife and love your family and enjoy them And I learned a lot of those lessons from him nice nice So let’s get to beyond law school. You come back home, right? Or did you not come back home? Come back home. So after law school, I was a glutton for higher education. I went to the University of Denver and got an LLM, an environmental law, which is- What’s an LLM for the non-attractions? It’s a specialized master’s in a subject matter area. I think it really kind of started with taxation being the main focus. And then different folks, universities, branched out on subject matter. those in Denver, you know, for someone who was 23 years old, 24 years old, not a bad place to live. Yeah. And so how long was that in Denver? It was only a year. Okay. So my now wife, we were dating at the time, actually met at a wedding in Tallahassee where she went with my former boss, Bill Nelson’s son, and I happened to leave with her, which probably angered the Nelson family. But we were distance was planning on actually staying in Colorado. I had a job at the National Park Service, was digging it, was in their legal counsel sort of internship program, but it was 2007, 2008. So that was about the time that, you know, country was in a little bit of a recession. Once that, that gig ended, it was, well, let’s go back to Tallahassee, my wife at the time owned a home here. She was a teacher, her family’s from here. So it was an easy, easy call. like it. But you said she grew up here. She grew up here. She’s never lived anywhere else despite the fact that I’ve lived five or six places. So then when did you actually get married? Was it make it 2010? We got married in 2011. Okay, gotcha. Okay. And so you’re all degrade up. Many degrees. You’re learned up. You’ve got the buds of a new family. And now you’re starting work here in Hasse was your first job at DEP? Where did you go first? So when I came back in 08 I started with Jeff Cockamp who was Lieutenant Governor at the time but running for Attorney General and so he had just started his campaign and through the Republican Party of Florida you know they kind of said hey would you like this hot-shot kid got all these degrees to help you work on your campaign. So I was Governor Cot Camp’s, you know, bad guy, travel aid, I self-proclaimed policy director because I wanted to sound official. So policy director. So I spent a good year on the campaign trail with Governor Cot Camp and, you know, ultimately General Bondi won that election. Yeah, that does happen, doesn’t it? Sometimes. It’s very sudden after election day, you know, it’s like, so I don’t have a job anymore. And so at that point, I went and worked for the Florida League of Cities for almost six years in their general counsel’s office and then handling a number of legislative issues. That’s where I kind of cut my teeth lobbying, if you will. And it’s humorous for a couple of different reasons, mainly because Frank Matthews was sort of enemy number one of local government, or certain local governments across the state of Florida. So early on at least I got to take that pseudo adversarial role to my dad, which we kind of played off nicely with each other. Nice. I think that’s the first time I’d heard of you when you were at the League of Cities. I didn’t know you were there that long though, that’s interesting. It was, yeah. Now I bounced back from the general counsel’s office into just sort of a largely lobbyist role. Right, right. So six years. not at your dad’s law firm, which I think is a good sign, bodes well for, it speaks well not just of you, but also your father to not allow you to work there. And so you go out, you make your bones, you fight with your dad almost certainly. I’ve seen some of the legislation the old days that he worked on and you were definitely busy. Regulatory reform always gave me sort of the chills. comprehensive package. That’s what it is. But he in was a Jimmy Petronas and a few others just joined at the hip on some of those. It was interesting days. It was and I remember when that quote unquote regulatory reform bill passed, vividly remember Jimmy coming out of the house chamber and just bear hugging my dad. And it sort of encapsulated how A, how hard it is to pass legislation, but B, how closely you can work with some of those legislation. No doubt so how did you get the first time you and I ever really talked? I mean we may have we may have talked a couple of times sure while you’re at the cities But but we didn’t really interact with each other until you went to DEP And I think that was probably what 2011’s ish maybe 12 something like that. Actually it was more 13 was it? Yeah, yeah, what what got you there? It’s you know under what circumstances Why’d you take it because it was the office? It wasn’t it was at the office of water policy, right? It was It was largely because there was a recognized ceiling at my job with the League of Cities, quite frankly. And then secondly, our mutual friend, John Steverson. So I had, you know, the perfect time to consider a career change when your wife is pregnant and you’re a young guy. Secretary Steverson a couple times, it said, hey, I’d like you to come over to the department. I couldn’t wrap my head around working at a state agency at the time. him maybe twice. And so it was a lengthy courtship if you will. And I think he just finally broke me down and said, hey, I’ve got this really cool opportunity kind of starting my tenure there in this new role as well. And think we could do some cool things together. And he bent it to something else, right? Because the idea was it was tucked down into the agency before did not have the bandwidth that it And it was separate and apart because whether it was it was largely you know Johns and Herschel’s doing Herschel being being the secretary proceeding John Yep was the idea of making water a significant priority. Well and that was the you know the bulk of our conversation before I agreed to come in as I told him a couple things I said number one you know I want to report to you and just you I don’t want to talk to three people before I talk to the second right Number two, if we’re gonna really give the Office of Water Policy, you know, a robust sort of backing, you know, tell me what that means to you because you know, look, we’re a peninsula state who gets 50 plus inches of rain per year. Doesn’t mean we don’t have our water issues. We’ve got a number of them and maybe that’s because we have an abundance of water, but I knew that it was a really cool policy area and whether you’re talking about quality or quantity, the fold. Was that something that, I mean your dad dealt with environmental issues, but he dealt with a lot of issues. And so was that your portfolio at the League of Cities was, was you kind of moved into that territory, so it was a more natural transition? Yeah, so I would classify my dad as largely a dirt lawyer. I mean a lot of land use, a lot of private property rights issues, and he generally always represented either the business community or developers. I was at the League of Cities, I did a lot of land use work as well. I mean, we’re talking about early on sort of the rewriting of growth management laws and late 2009, early 2010, et cetera. So I started there, but also handled utility issues. And so as I kind of grew in my professional capacity as a lobbyist, my subject matter largely centered around environmental issues anyway. So it allowed me to sort of, you know, fight my father in the legislative or arena, but also kind of become passionate and carry over what I did at Denver as it related to water law effectively. And certainly there are stark differences between Western water law and Eastern water law as you well know. But yeah, it kind of helped me sort of, you know, chart a path that was a little bit of a niche focus. And so at that point, you serve as director in that office. But then is it because? little johns a giant quitter and left the department as the regulatory deputy secretary. So it’s actually Paula Cobb’s a giant quitter. Oh, Paul Cobb’s a giant quitter. And left the department as deputy secretary. So yeah, as office of water policy, you know, director, my, my most interaction and where we talked quite frequently is, is with water management districts. And so when Paula got a different opportunity, she stepped aside and, and Secretary Stevenson but hey, you know, how about going from an office of five, we go to an office of 1,100? That’s right. Sound good? And I said, yeah, bring it on. Yeah, and so you went from interesting policy discussions, budget conversations, you had a lot of that general oversight. You know, when you look at all five of the water management districts. So, but it’s fairly even kill. You got a lot of folks that, you know, partners and executive director, I’ve been one of them at the time to work with you on these issues, but you decide, so you go from that to what I consider top three, four hardest jobs in that entire agency. Without a doubt. Right. And so was it, hey, here’s a new mountain to climb or what took you there? So I think it was the opportunity to learn a whole host of new issues because you’re right. I mean, that. that job is so large when you’re talking about all air water and waste permits that come through the department in a state the size of Florida with the unique natural resources that we have. It was an opportunity but also it was scary as hell because there were a number of areas you know hazardous waste. Yeah. I hadn’t had a lot of interaction there and I’m still like to think that I’m still young so at the time I knew that I was not going to be the smartest in every room, especially on certain topics. Yeah. And so, I mean, on that subject, and because I want to touch on it because you ended up being serving a shift as the secretary of the agency, but going from at a pretty young age, at that time for certain a young age to be in that position, going from relatively small offices to enormous to entire agency, did you develop, have time to develop a management style in the midst of that or and if you did like what what was that? So I think obviously when you’re talking about leading a large group of people the first and foremost you kind of have to be the example and so I think I just stated that I knew that I wasn’t going to be the smartest person in the room. So I needed to A surround myself with the smartest people I could find and lean on their counsel as much as as possible, but B also gets to know folks who were quite frankly in the day to day operations. I mean, any given permit that comes into DEP of which there are thousands per year, you know, I’m not going to know the intricacies of one unless I spend significant time on it. I obviously can’t spend significant time on 1100. So I needed to lean on the folks who were, you know, in the muck, if you will, and doing things on a day to day basis. So my leadership style was, you know, let’s say, you know, let’s say, you know, let’s me show my appreciation, let me know and find out what you do for the department, and then make sure that you realize that you’re appreciated because there are certain obstacles when it comes to showing appreciation to state workers. You didn’t have the state budget that we have today where every year folks are getting a 3% pay increase. These were sort of austere times. I can’t reward you financially per se, but I can come tell you you’re doing a great job and I appreciate you and be open as sort of the head or pseudo head of a department or an agency entirety that I’m here if you need something. That was more my style. And you always struck me in those days, before really knowing you, as somebody who spent a lot more time listening than talking, which is for lawyers out there, but it’s not a common trait of attorneys or lobbyists often. Did that kind of fit in there as well? You’re going to a place and you do, you know, it seemed like you’re trying to, you know, figure out how do I best, you know, help these folks. Is that kind of the… Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, look, I was sort of thrust into a certain degree to some of these roles which I embraced, but also knew that I was interacting and engaging with folks who were heads of Fortune 100 companies as permit applicants for the department, but also politicians on a daily basis. So I needed to consume as much as I could to be educated on any given issue, but also as a 33, 34 year old, I just didn’t want to sound like an idiot. I wanted to make sure that… I knew what I was talking about and that led to probably me going prematurely gray and spending a lot of time on different issues, but I like to think that it also made me fairly effective too. Yeah, I agree. And so to touch on, so you leave the agency to go out into the private sector, but I want to talk for a minute and give you a chance to kind of help listeners understand something that kind of overlaps both of those things. Because you were at one point, the chairman Central Florida Water Initiative, which is a long-standing organization of sorts to try to solve some pretty significant water quantity issues, but also section 404 of the Clean Water Act was something that Florida ended up being delegated from the federal government. Both of those have their significant challenges, but you were, you know, chest deep or deeper, some might say. Tell me, or tell us, what is Section 404? Why the state would want to take on responsibility in that delegation? Sure. And then some of the challenges there. So Section 404 of the Clean Water Act governs discharges of dredging fill material into waters of the United States. So anytime you’re moving dirt, particularly around a wetland or other water body, you’re going to require a Section 404 permit. Historically those permits were granted by the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida has a similar permitting scheme that you’re well versed in in an environmental resource permit. A lot of water management districts will actually issue environmental resource permits. So why did we want to assume the 404 program in Florida is because somewhere between 85 and 87% of the time those two permits overlap. You’re effectively getting a permit. the same activity. And there are very different, call them, you know, shot clocks that a federal agency like the Army Corps of Engineers has versus what a state environmental agency as a water management district or DEP has. There is no shot clock for the Army Corps of Engineers to issue it yet. So you legitimately have stories of permit applications sitting on And that’s unacceptable, quite frankly. And I’ve always viewed our regulatory agencies as absolutely necessary for the protection of the natural resource. But that does not mean that construction activities and development still shouldn’t occur. Now, you should have those within the sort of the view of how do you balance the natural resources versus the development. And it should always be a very fine and even line, frankly. But the need for Florida to do so, I think, was just efficiency. Michigan and New Jersey had done it prior, so there was some precedent set. And this was a conversation that as I was secretary, and really in 2015, 2016, was sort of blossoming as this is our opportunity of which we’ve tried for decades to actually get this done. in the state of Florida. And the standards we’re talking about didn’t change. And so you’re right. It’s like there were these delays based on sometimes who knows what, but I think in terms of at least dealing with the regular community of saying, hey, there’s no difference in what you’re going to be required to do. However, you should be able to get an answer within a couple of years. Even if that answer’s no. Right. Because sometimes the answer is no. Yeah. Tell me about, I wouldn’t, I don’t want to say came off but somewhere in the transition. I’ve heard rumors in innuendos. I don’t know how much of it’s true but some have said that as soon as they knew that that delegation was really coming, reviewers put their pencils down, packed everything neatly in boxes and waited for that to happen and stop working. Has that… have you heard the same rumors or what? Because when you look at the dump that happened of permanent applications, I think it was days before Christmas and it says here you go Florida, how about it? It’s hard not to make accusations that there was some nefarious activity from federal agencies in certain regards. Yeah, I think that you’re right. There was a clunkiness to the assumption that probably was done for Well, we’re going to give it to you. We might not necessarily make it easy. But I think in any large government agency, you’re always going to have certain folks who they’ve been there and their mindset is, well, I’ll just wait you out as the applicant and it’ll be what it’ll be. And that same could be said for ahead of an agency. I was very clear to me at DEP that there were certain folks who said, well, man, I’ll just wait for three or four years. Right. And so I’ll continue to do what I want to do. Just to just to pause on that notion in terms of in terms of governance, in terms of trying to make a change. It was easy for me. I spent, you know, 10 years at the same agency, you know, heading up as like, but the lifespan of a secretary at DEP or any agent, any large state agency like that one, is not so long. I mean, almost never extends even to the the term of the guy that gave you the job. which is the governor. Does that present a challenge of you try to do something but it doesn’t really, nothing really sticks or, I mean in this case it happened and you know the assumption happened, you know the warts on it that you have to deal with to move forward or there but that’s got to feel at least a little good to have something like that that at least moves forward even if it has those. Sure and I, you know look I was a small part in that effort overall but it was nice to be able to lead the charge, to meet with folks who would be most impacted, to garner their support of it, to talk to the governor’s office, and quite frankly, you know, lead them down the path as to why this was the right decision for the state of Florida. Now, the actual assumption took three years, just because of the interaction with EPA, with the Army Corps of Engineers, with Big Fish, et cetera. But yeah, you know, this was also something that he sort of saw as the holy grail. And so it was even cooler for me personally to say, hey, you know, I had a small part in it. Yeah. And I assume, like under those circumstances, that if you had to do it all over again, you know, what’s an all you do it again? 100%. Yeah. Okay. So the other big one, the one I want to talk about, because it has had a lot to do, I was at SwiftMud, you know, a million years ago, I grew up, you know, around the CFWI area. Central Florida water initiative area. I think I said that before but just in case I made you the chairman of that ship Was it the Titanic or tell me tell me the well tell listeners first the function of the CFWI and You know and then is it working? How about that? Sure? Let’s start with the function. So for those who don’t know the Central Florida water initiative is a regulatory effort of multiple age You’ve got three water management districts, St. John, South Florida, and Southwest as you mentioned. You also have the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and then Utilities. So the notion behind this effort was Central Florida is likely your most heavily population increasing area of the state. So obviously water resources are going to be constricted and constrained. We finalized through hydrological studies and data that we’ve got 800 million gallons per day of capacity in the aquifer in central Florida. We have a knee determination in the future because of that increasing population of say 1,100 million gallons per day of water needs. So how do you make up that delta of 300 plus million gallons per day for an ever-growing population? And so it was really cool to be able to try to solve a long-term planning process with our most precious resource that we utilize every day and need for survival. But how do we get there? Because you’re not stopping people from moving to Florida. So you’re going to need to make some pretty bold decisions, either now or in the future, about water permitting, about uses. Who gets the water? Those are big questions. Yeah, are you satisfied that the work that was done there, I’ve seen a lot of positive that’s come from it and at least some predictability. Are you satisfied with the follow through from the state or? No, we could do a lot more. One of the things that I really liked about my time at the department is I think, again, you talk about 404, but I really tried to focus on water quantity. Scott at the time, I think we got him on board and his administration on board with the need to fund alternative water supply projects. You go back to 2004, 2005, 2006, we were using the Water Protection and Sustainability Trust Fund and getting an eight to one return on investment in terms of dollars spent by the state of Florida. And we dropped off, obviously, because of an appropriating dollars for those large-scale alternative water supply projects for sustainability purposes. Yeah. Under those circumstances, you must think that even though they brought it back, and I think it was Governor Scott that did that originally, thanks to you, put something toward it, but it was not, this is not 2005, 2006 dollars. That’s, you know, that’s a hundred million dollars. Sometimes more the first year than that non-recurring was double that. So it’s quite a bit less. And so is that what you’re talking about? What is $100 million a number is $200 million a number? I mean, it’s an expensive lift that you’re talking about. And so does the $40 million a year do it. If you’re in the $40 to $50 million range, I mean, that’s the proverbial drop in the bucket, right? I mean, one of the things that I said multiple times on my public speaking tours secretary was that DOT has an 11 million. billion budget. You know, DEP at the time had like a $1.2 billion budget. Yeah. So while transportation is very important to a state that’s tourism reliance as Florida, you know, water is pretty dang important too. Yeah, I think there’s at least, certainly on the water quality side, it seems like that recognition is pretty, pretty widespread at this point. I think because once it’s touched, you know, everyone’s lives, you know, at this point, not just on the coast, that becomes relevant. maybe things like the CFWI have prevented us from realizing the deficit when it comes to things like that, especially given that we’re still such a fast growing state. Thanks to a governor and a string of governors that continue to make it that way, there’s a lot of water we’ve got to figure out how to get. From a funding perspective, Governor DeSantis has done tremendous things as it relates to environmental projects. You mentioned the Everglades and certain environmental projects. issues that probably get the bulk of the attention and the bulk of the money, quite frankly. But I mean when you’re talking about billions of dollars over DeSantis’ first term, you know, that’s a significant achievement and one that should be celebrated. The idea of the CFWI was, okay, we always talk about water issues as needing a regional solution. Let’s come up with a regional framework to present projects that will create regional solutions. I think we in having the legislature say we should be putting $200 million a year into the Central Florida Water Initiative and those projects they’ve identified as being a reasonable benefit. I’m not gonna, I almost baited you into the Avalorum at Water Management Districts discussion. I’m gonna leave that alone for both of our sake at the moment. It’s always tough to talk about taxes, right? I mean, now, I say that’s like I’m not gonna do it as I begin to do it. We talk about reasonable solutions. a water management guy. We have these regional organizations called Water Management Districts put a lot of their feet in terms of the you know, consumption use permitting and ERP. We talked about the you know, the 404 side. When you look at things like CFWI, Brian Armstrong’s done tremendous work. I mean, the Southwest Florida Water Management District itself used to have something I could call the financial engine that they would use and set aside millions of dollars every year to help regional water resource projects and it feels like sometimes we are handcuffing ourselves a little bit in terms of their ability for regional places and people there to make decisions to have how we pay for growth match up with with the growth itself. I agree you know Brian has done a tremendous job and Robert Beltran before you know really took on that that regional approach and with Anne Shortell at St. John’s. And I think you had a group of Water Management District Executive Directors and you’re certainly among those. I’ll allow your challenges in North Florida, maybe a little bit different. Not nearly as severe in that water supply. But no, I do think that we unfortunately don’t focus enough of our resources on large scale regional solutions. I know I’m taking a bunch of your time. lightning round of sorts because I tell, you know, I asked largely a lot of the same questions, but first before I do that, I do want to ask you what your approach is now. So now you’re outside of government, you’re not in an association. What’s your approach to the lobbying consulting world? Is it a lot like how you described, you know, being inside government? It can be. I mean, lobbying is unique. It’s an interesting profession to say the least, as an attorney and a lobbyist, I am a, you know, a zealous advocate for my client, and my client varies by the day. And the situation or the subject matter area varies by the hour from time to time. So I get paid to have opinions, which is a little bit different than, you know, being in a state employee where the mission is clear, it’s protection of the natural resource, it’s engagement and interaction with permit applicants and trying to get better Florida, I feel like I’m doing the same thing and I’m blessed to have a client base that is large scale still representing a lot of local governments. I represent a number of electric water and wastewater utilities, the business community as well. So I feel like I’ve got a nice mix of clientele, but the approach from a lobbying perspective is with term limits, I have to educate new members quite frankly on issues that are recycled. I mean, you know, idea gets left on the printing press in Tallahassee. They all come back in lunch shape or form. So I mean it’s you know at least being able to have a reputation that I’ve done it before you know in a position of some authority at a large department within the state of Florida. I’ve got the chops if you will and I mean it’s about relationships at the end of the day. So it’s a lot of meeting new folks trying to understand why they’re the position they’re in in the elected office, and then can you find some sort of common ground? There’s 120 house members, there’s 40 senators. Not every one of them is a 41 year old from upstate New York who likes live music, obsessed with college football. I mean, some of them are, but not all. So you really kind of have to be well-versed in many different things. I like it. So I can’t let you go. You said live music. What type of music? My music takes are eclectic. You know, I’ve been growing the hair out recently. So there’s some jam band in there. Certainly, you know, my college road trips were largely focused around a couple different bands in particular, but I love all kinds of music. My wife and I have a really solid group of friends are sort of our thing is traveling to see live music. I could be Jason Isbell one day to whatever the latest iteration of the dead is to, if I could catch a Sturgill Simpson show, that’s probably number one on my list right now if those vocal chords could get repaired. But Tallahassee, at least now these days, you could say, hey, Lucas Nelson’s coming next week. Great, Willie Nelson was here two weeks ago with Emmylou Harris. You can get something, whereas growing up, it was, hey, maybe MC Hammer drops in the town every five years. I always consider like, I guess when you’re grown up and you have access to a vehicle and fuel for that vehicle, I mean, you have Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Tampa all within, you know, striking distance. And so there’s a lot of good music that passes through and that’s for sure. All right, on to the speed run. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? I think becoming secretary of DEP at 34, running an agency. 2,500 people and billion dollar budget and the 13th largest economy in the world. I think that’s it. You could do worse. It’s gotta be a- You could do worse, yeah. Is there anything about government, that government service, I think you may have mentioned it before, that you feel is kind of left undone or underdone. I would have liked to have made more of an impact from a water quantity standpoint of where I think we inevitably get to in this state and maybe we can talk about that at a later date, but that’s potable reuse. would have made more strides in the potable reuse world when I was at DEP. Yeah, that makes sense. Are you optimistic about the future of the environment and water in Florida? And if you are or not, why? I’m largely optimistic. And I think Governor DeSantis has shown the willingness to invest and prioritize, as has the legislature obviously, who has to craft the budget. I still think that we’re going to face some pretty again, how long can you pull significant quantities of water from the aquifer without either charging people more or which I know is a bad word, yeah, or trying to finalize or figure out how you do that in perpetuity. What if anything keeps you up at night regarding Floor’s environment? Losing Florida, I mean you know I think those of us and even though I was born in New York I’ve spent a majority of my life here and particularly North Florida which I love I mean, there’s something about old Florida, if you will. And I don’t want to lose that. We are, again, getting about 1,000 people a day moving here, which is not sustainable in keeping old Florida. So that’s what keeps me up. And what does Florida look like in 30, 40 years when my kids are, you know, hopefully in the same position and having children of their own? Yeah. What advice would you give to a young person who’s thinking about entering or just entering? public service or You know the things related to Environmental policy and service public service. I wish you know there was a mandatory aspect to it I think anybody everyone should get involved somehow quite frankly my advice would be to you know educate yourself Again, one of my biggest fears when I was young was just just looking like an idiot and doing your homework and You know identifying issues that your passion about and then having, you know, willing to be a human being and have conversations with people in a reasonable manner. It goes a long way and it can be lost in days like today. Yeah, it feels like that’s a conversation is a lost art. You haven’t lost your knack for it. Ryan Matthews, thank you so much for being on the show, man. Appreciate you having me. Well, that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening to Water for Fighting. If you’re enjoying the show, please be sure to subscribe on whatever platform you use and don’t forget to leave a five-star rating interview. You can follow the show on LinkedIn and Instagram at FLWaterpod and you can reach me directly at FLWaterpod at gmail.com with your comments and suggestions for who and or what you’d like to know more about. Production of this podcast is by Lonely Fox Studios. Thanks to Carl Sworn for making the best of what he had to work with and to David Barfield for the amazing graphics and technical assistance. A very special thank you goes out to Bo Spring from the Bo Spring Band for giving permission to use his music for this podcast. The song is called Doing Work for Free and you should check out the Or wherever great music is sold, join me next time for our last conversation of the season with someone who has helped shape water and environmental policy in the Sunshine State. You won’t want to miss it. Until then, keep your whiskey close and your water closer.

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