The House Appropriations Committee moved legislation that would move the Office of Energy from the Department of Agriculture.
Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried strongly opposed the bill as she continues to struggle with partisan winds in the Capitol.
“Republicans are threatened. [They] had near complete power for almost two decades. Now a Democratic woman gets elected statewide and the old boys club cannot stand for it,” Fried told reporters. “They are working to erode the balance of power in state government and weaken what people voted [for], to silence the people. It’s petty and absolutely pathetic.”
A House committee bill (PCB ANR 20-01) would shift the Office of Energy oversight from her office to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Chair Holly Raschein of the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee noted that unless the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services removes all gas pump stickers with Commissioner Nikki Fried‘s face, the department would lose its funding beginning July 1 — a sharp rejoinder to Fried bemoaning partisan attacks on her office before the meeting.
Bill analysis notes that before “2008, there was a state energy program within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that was responsible for developing the state’s energy policy. Chapter 2008-227, L.O.F., transferred all of the powers, duties, functions, records, personnel, and property of the state energy program in DEP by a type two transfer to the Florida Energy and Climate Commission in the Executive Office of the Governor. The Commission was responsible for the state’s energy program until 2011.”
In 2011, with the politically favored Adam Putnam in Fried’s office, the energy program seemed a natural fit for his department. However, the House sees it differently now.
“The bill conforms to the proposed House of Representatives’ Fiscal Year 2020-2021 General Appropriations Act, which transfers 14 full-time equivalent positions, $605,934 in Salary Rate, $539,080 in general revenue funds, and $1,214,900 in trust fund authority from the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services to the Department of Environmental Protection,” the analysis adds.
Ahead of Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee meeting, Commissioner Nikki Fried again slammed a proposed committee bill moving the Office of Energy from her department.
Arguing that it was a “power grab,” the Commissioner made her case to media as legislators entered the building just steps from the standup.
“They say moves like this happen all the time,” Fried said, noting that she already knew what would go down in the committee.
Wednesday, she outlined the effectiveness of the office: “funded by federal grants … efficient, cost-effective, does more with less.”
Fried noted the attack on her office was an unprecedented “part of a larger plan to … subvert democracy” by giving “unchecked power to the Governor.”
Raschein noted DeSantis’ leadership on the environment as a good reason to move the office, meanwhile, sidestepping Democratic qualms about the move.
No savings or efficiency would be realized by the move, Raschein noted.
“It’s a wash,” she said.
“DEP’s mission is clean water,” she added. “It’s clean air. And clean energy is a component of all of those things. And so, the notion that we’re being political or doing something that’s outside of our arena is, I don’t know, I’m unclear on that.”
An amendment to move the date of office movement to 2022 failed. Qualms from committee Democrats over the “political decision” were mostly ignored.
Rep. Randy Fine, a full-throated advocate of the Governor’s ability to handle the move of the office of energy to DEP, vociferously countered objections from the Sierra Club, arguing the move would provide a “new vigor.”
“Perhaps this is political,” Fine noted, ahead of a slam dunk party line vote.
*News Service of Florida contributed to this report.