A committee bill in the Florida House looks to move the state Office of Energy out from under its current agency. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is calling it a “power grab” by Republicans.
“The purpose of this conforming bill is to transfer the Office of Energy within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Department of Environmental Protection,” said Republican Rep. Holly Raschein, chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations subcommittee.
The Office of Energy has been under the Department of Agriculture for the past nine years. In terms of staffing and funding, Raschein says, exactly what’s in place under the Department of Agriculture will be moved over to DEP.
“(The proposal) transfers 14 full time equivalent positions, $539,080 in general revenue funds and $1,214,900 in trust fund authority,” Raschein told her colleagues.
The Office of Energy evaluates energy-related studies and stakeholder input in order to recommend energy policies and programs to the Governor and lawmakers.
Raschein faced questions from her colleagues on the panel as to why make the move is being proposed now?
“It seems that over the last 9 years, the Office of Energy has been operating pretty well,” Democratic Rep. Kristin Jacobs said. “So I’m trying to understand the justification for shifting it, when it seems to be working so well, from one agency to another.”
Raschein replied saying the office’s jurisdiction fits well under DEP:
“We talk about clean water, we talk about clean air, we talk about clean energy – so it’s a very acceptable place to put the Office of Energy.”
The committee’s vice-chair, Republican Representative Rick Roth, had questions about costs:
“Is there any anticipated cost savings due to being able to consolidate responsibilities?”
Raschein didn’t have a clear answer.
“In the long run, in the long term, I’d imagine there could be some savings, I just wouldn’t know what those are right now,” Raschein said.
After the house panel passed the measure, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called a press conference to blast the proposal.
“Thirty minutes ago, I stood before the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee. I asked them to ask themselves, why? Why would we move the Office of Energy from FDACS when it’s finally working, and why do we want to do it now,” Fried said, flanked by Democratic lawmakers Sen. Kevin Rader and Rep. Juan Fernandez.
Fried is calling the move a partisan “power grab.”
“The only answer to the ‘why’ is painfully clear – this bill puts party before state, and puts the governor before Floridians. This is part of the governor’s plan to consolidate power,” the state’s lone Democratic cabinet member said. “We’ve seen it with his bill last week to strip oversight of state agencies from the independently elected Florida Cabinet, and with whom 12 million voters put their faith to govern alongside the governor.”
Fried told reporters she has not spoken with Governor Ron DeSantis on the matter since she became aware of the bill.
The Governor was in Washington D.C. for a meeting at the White House, alongside a handful of Republican state legislators, Tuesday afternoon.
Fried contends her agency cut administrative overhead in the energy office and has made progress on energy initiatives over the past nine years. She says the move would set back years of progress.
“We’re not just the Department of Agriculture, but also of Consumer Services,” Fried said. “We fight every single day for consumers, in a way the Department of Environmental protection, or the Governor’s Office, frankly cannot do.”
The two no votes on the bill came from Democrats Tina Polsky and Clovis Watson. But two other Democrats on the panel, Kristin Jacobs and Anika Omphroy, voted up on the bill. Asked about the Democratic ‘yes’ votes, Fried says she can’t speak for everyone in her party.
The bill has one more stop, the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, before it hits the House floor.