Profiling Team Romney: Fla. Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam

By Tim Portz | October 16, 2012

At 22 years of age, fifth-generation cattle rancher and citrus grower Adam Putnam was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and was later appointed chairman of that body’s agriculture committee. Putnam, national chairman of the Farmers and Ranchers for Romney coalition and co-chair of the Romney/Ryan agricultural advisory committee has served not only in the Florida legislature, but also served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as representative for Florida’s 12th district. When elected to the U.S. House in 2001, Putnam was 26 years old, the youngest member of Congress. In 2006, Putnam assumed the role of chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fifth-ranking Republican leadership position in the House. Now, Putnam is serving the second year of a four-year term as Florida’s commissioner of agriculture.

Not long after Commissioner Putnam took office, the Florida legislature moved the responsibilities of the state’s energy office to the Florida Department of Agriculture, because, as Putnam states in a video recorded in the summer of 2011, “we are seen as a department that is progressive, innovative and nurtures new economic opportunities for Floridians.”

Industry professionals working in Florida expressed confidence in Putnam’s grasp of the issues surrounding agriculture- and forestry-based energy production. Josh Levine, American Renewables LLC’s vice president of project development, met with Putnam as his company’s biomass power plant in Gainesville, Fla., was being built and noted, “Commissioner Putnam clearly understands the benefits of biomass energy from an economic development standpoint, from a resource utilization standpoint, and from an overall picture of how can we support the forestry industry within Florida, which, second to tourism, is their second biggest industry in the state when combined with agriculture.”

Susan Glickman, a policy consultant to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, adds that Putnam “understands the issues and is working hard to guide energy policy in a smart and effective way.”

Putnam’s support for policies that support the growth of renewable energy can be traced back to his voting record while a member of the U.S. House. In 2007, Putnam was one of 95 Republicans in the House to vote for the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. This bill established the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which mandates the use of biofuels in the U.S. liquid fuel supply. House Republicans were evenly split on the bill, with Putnam being one of 95 Republicans to vote in favor of the legislation.

As Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, Putnam has publicly embraced the role renewables could play in Florida’s energy future noting that “with vast lands and abundant sunshine, Florida has a prime opportunity to be a leader in renewable energy.” Converting this passion and support for agriculture-based renewables into aggressive policy making, however, has not proved easy for the commissioner.

In April, the Florida legislature passed HB 7117. The bill became law despite Gov. Rick Scott’s refusal to sign it. While the new law contains some tax credit provisions for the industry, the legislation stoped short of establishing a statewide renewable energy portfolio that many industry advocates had been hoping for.

Bruce Ritchie, an energy and environment reporter for the Florida Current, noted that “Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 had proposed a 20 percent  renewable energy portfolio and the legislature in 2008 passed a sweeping energy bill that directed the public service commission to come up with an RPS recommendation.”  According to the Florida Senate website, HB 7117 officially “deletes obsolete directive to PSC to adopt rules for renewable portfolio standard.” Pointing to this policy retreat, Ritchie said that “energy policy advancement from the standpoint of support for a renewable portfolio standard has been going backwards.”

Glickman does not see this energy bill as the definitive word on Putnam’s commitment to renewable energy, suggesting that the bill is “certainly a modest piece of legislation, but because the conversation on energy [in Florida] had stalled, the modest steps and support were critical to get the conversation back on the table.”

 “It may be that what is required to do anything in Florida is modest baby steps,” added Ritchie.

Commissioner Putnam’s record as a Florida congressman, U.S. congressman and Florida commissioner of agriculture paints a picture of policymaker with a firm grasp of and support for the economic opportunities presented by agriculture- and forestry- based energy. He has aligned Florida’s energy offices with its department of agriculture and advocated for the inclusion of renewable energy policy in the recently passed energy bill.

Summarizing her belief that Putnam will continue to advocate for renewable energy, Susan Glickman suggested, “Any way you look at it, it’s going to require political leadership, and Commissioner Putnam shows an interest in being that leader.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a six part series profiling the agricultural and energy advisors to the Romney/Ryan campaign. Subsequent profiles will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays until Election Day.