Adam Putnam

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The proposal the Environmental Protection Agency released Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants by as much as 30% by 2030 is another example of gridlock in Congress, according to Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

The carbon rule will drive up costs and affect states like Georgia, Mississippi, and the Carolinas because they are more reliant on coal than Florida, Putnam warned at The Bond Buyer's Financing Municipal Utilities conference here Monday.

Another illustration of the administration's approach to changing regulations is the rule proposed in March by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers' that would expand Clean Water Act regulations over navigable waters, said Putnam.

The rule significantly redefines powers of the Army Corps of Engineers using the administrative process, and that will continue to happen "as long as Congress is inactive," said Putnam, who noted that the EPA rule would impact every state.

"We will continue to see the executive branch fill these kinds of rules because of the vacuum Congress has created instead of going through a process that allows more input by stakeholders," he said.

Adding to the complexities of the energy sector are inconsistent themes between administrations, he said, adding, "Every new president brings a radical shift in policies."

Putnam said he left Congress after 10 years to become the elected commissioner of agriculture in Florida "to get something done … and we've been able accomplish a lot here in Florida focusing on issues such as utilities."

His department also oversees the state's energy office, including renewable sectors.

In the water utility sector, Florida has a number of drinking water woes and will have to find other sources besides aquifers because of population growth.

"I think we'll see in less than five years we'll see significant public and private interest, and significant bonding for water projects," said Putnam, who added those will include more desalination projects, and co-locating them with energy facilities.

This November, voters statewide will be asked to decide if funding up to $600 million a year through bond financing should be approved to fund land, water and conservation issues.

Putnam said the initiative is expected to pass, and he believes that the kinds of projects to be financed will include water supply and restoration projects. "We will see significant investment in that space," he added.

When asked why Florida has not invested to a large degree in desalination plants to date, Putnam said it has always been a cost issue and municipalities have tapped the aquifer because it is cheaper.

"Relieving pressure on the Florida aquifer is in the state's interest," he said, adding that he plans to push for greater state oversight.

The utility conference continues through Tuesday, and panel discussions include bank loan financing versus traditional bond financing, and recent news about the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

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