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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

PSC meltdown reveals Crist-Bush rift

Nancy_argenziano_3 In an explosive confrontation earlier today, two Public Service Commissioners appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist accused other commissioners and PSC staffers of not sharing information and "railroading" a docket for Florida Power & Light.


"I'm not looking to attack anything, I'm not going after anyone," Commissioner Nancy Argenziano said. "I'm just trying to be an independent commissioner ... If there's paranoia anywhere, stop the paranoia."

The tension seemed to speak to personality and philosophical conflicts between factions that, in simple terms, come down to who was appointed by Crist and who was appointed by Jeb Bush.

Lisa_edgarbio Argenziano said she was miffed to learn that commissioner Lisa  Edgar appeared before a U.S. Senate committee last week to give testimony on Florida's efforts to address climate change. Argenziano did not fault the testimony per se, but said she wanted to know about something like that.

The former state senator, who informed reporters that she would raise the issues, also said she had no idea about a program encouraging utilities to contract with minority-owned businesses. While the idea is noble, she said, it gives the appearance the PSC is "leaning on" utilities.

"It's not a good smell," Argenziano said.

Nathan_skopbio But the real fireworks came from Crist's other appointee, Nathan Skop.

Visibly agitated, Skop suggested that everyone but he and Argenziano knew about Edgar's trip. At one point he rose from his seat and turned around to a staff member and asked if he knew.

Katrina_mcmurrianbio Skop also confronted Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, who said she was not there to be cross examined. Finally, he took out a laptop and went to a table where another computer was connected to a projector. Skop hastily hooked his up and showed the room a copy of the testimony. A date stamp, he said, proved he was around on the day it was created.

More significantly, perhaps, Skop implied there was an effort to consolidate three pending requests by Florida Power & Light into one, presumably making it easier to gain approval.

"This is not railroading. This is not a rubber stamp for the utilities," Skop shouted over chairman Matt Carter's attempts to end the discussion. "We need to do the right thing to protect the public interest. This is denial of due process for the public going on here and I've got a problem with it."

(Listen to the two men battle here.)

Carter said it was "illegal, unethical and immoral" to discuss a matter that had not yet come before the commission. Skop protested, saying he wanted only to talk about procedural matters, not the merits of the cases. But Carter eventually ended the meeting by slamming his gavel.

The decision to consolidate the cases -- a new power plant in Palm Beach and the conversion of two existing ones in Palm Beach and Brevard counties -- has not been made. The matter is before Edgar, who was assigned as the prehearing officer.

Edgar did not speak to that issue but defended her appearance before the U.S. Senate, saying she made no representation she was speaking on behalf of all PSC members.

Sitting next to Argenziano she looked alternately stunned and annoyed by the outburst, but mainly kept quiet.

Matt_carterbio In an interview after the meeting, Carter said he would make good on his pledge to better inform his colleagues. He also defended the minority outreach program, saying it was simply an extension of a current policy used in state government. "It's the right thing to do," he said.

A Crist-Bush rift, Carter said, is fiction.

"Most of our votes are 5-0. When passions run high, people see things like that. But there's no divide. When you raise your right hand and put it on that Bible, you're not taking an oath to Jeb Bush or Charlie Crist; you’re taking an oath to the people of the state of Florida."

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:58am]


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