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Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam says ethanol repeal sends wrong message for Florida

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is technically neutral on a proposal to repeal the 2008 Florida law that requires gasoline to include ethanol, which a House committee passed today.

But read carefully his comments to House Democrats today. Substantively, he said, there is no effect of the repeal because a federal fuel standard will remain.

"Symbolically, it sends the wrong message for Florida about our commitment to renewable energy," he said. "So if you're saying we need to repeal this and modernize it, that's absolutely right. We do need to repeal it and modernize it to give it the flexibility that reflects the rapidly advancing technologies in renewable fuels. That's not really what's being said though. What's being said is we just need to repeal it."

Florida should make it clear to international investors, he said, that it embraces new energy technology.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said she was disappointed that his office took a neutral stance in the House committee earlier Tuesday. The repeal is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz and Sen. Greg Evers.

Florida's renewables reputation matters to Putnam because his legislative agenda will be dominated by energy in 2012. Last session he acquired the state's energy office, and he plans to do more with the state's "red-headed stepchild" than entities past -- most recently the governor's office.

A "doable" energy venture for Florida, he said, may include resurrecting an incentive program for companies that invest in carbon-neutral technology. The state's earlier attempt at these awards expired before companies could take advantage of it, he said.

Putnam also thinks the Public Service Commission should consider "fuel diversity" when deciding whether to issue permits for new energy projects. A bill saying as much has been tricky to write, but the net effect would be more renewable energy for Florida, he said.

Half of Florida's electricity is generated by two natural gas pipelines, he said, leaving little diversity in the state's fuel supply.

"You wouldn't manage your investments like that," he said.