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Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Malloy's Awkward Move Toward Consolidation

The news that Gov. Dannel Malloy wants to merge the state's Department of Environmental Protection with the Department of Public Utility Control was delivered late Tuesday afternoon almost as an afterthought.

If Malloy is to succeed as governor and navigate Connecticut through the current economic quagmire, there's no question that it will take some consolidation at the state level. Reducing the size of state government is one way of reducing the state's enormous deficit.

But Malloy's method for unveiling this decision doesn't bode well for what the future holds of the administration, at least as it relates his ability to deliver a key message and sell it to the public.

Malloy's announcement was made via press release at the close of business for state government on Tuesday. There may have been legitimate reasons for making the announcement at that time, but even in today's 24-hour media cycle, such timing makes it difficult to get comprehensive answers about the consolidation plan.

Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget director, was supposedly made available via telephone later in the evening to answer some questions. But Malloy owes it to the public to release news of such an important plan at a time when it can be fully scrutinized in the light of day.

Unless, of course, the Malloy administration doesn't want the plan fully scrutinized at this point. And that may present a problem in trying to sell his plan to folks like Frank Panzarella.

Panzarella, who is an organizer for the ratepayer advocacy group Fight The Hike, said he is "a little leery about this new agency that is being proposed."

"I'd have to see more of the details, but my general feeling is that when you consolidate several agencies into one larger one, something gets lost and falls by the wayside because there aren't enough people to keep track of everything," Panzarella said.

Fight the Hike has supported efforts in the past by some state lawmakers and former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to create a statewide energy authority. Panzarella said the difference between that proposal and what is now being promoted by Malloy is that an energy authority would have been focused solely on energy issues and would have had a needed level of expertise.

"Until I'm shown otherwise, I'm skeptical that Gov. Malloy's proposed agency can achieve that," Panzarella said.

Malloy said in a statement included in Tuesday's announcement that the consolidation "will allow the state to act cohesively in two vitally important and directly related policy areas, particularly in terms of economic development, siting, permitting and other issues."

“Under this new agency, we will better integrate and coordinate our state’s energy and environmental policy in order to strengthen our ability to protect the environment; to clean, conserve and lower the cost of energy; and to set the table for rapid and responsible economic growth.”

The new agency would be called the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Malloy said the state’s energy policy will become centralized in the agency through the creation of two new bureaus: the Bureau of Energy Policy and Efficiency and the Bureau of Utilities Control. The Bureau of Energy Policy and Efficiency will be responsible for the development and analysis of energy policy as it affects all of Connecticut’s citizens and businesses through its Division of Energy Policy and Program Development.

The bureau’s Division of Government Energy Management will be responsible for the effective management of energy costs and energy usage by and within state government buildings and facilities. Existing staff from the Office of Policy and Management Energy Unit will be transferred into this bureau.

DEEP’s second energy bureau, the Bureau of Utilities Control, will be formed by transferring the Department of Public Utility Control into the agency. The DPUC will continue to be responsible for conducting management audits of the public service companies as well as scheduling, coordinating, and issuing legal notices, and conducting public hearings and adjudicating all contested cases.

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