Though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to merge state government’s environmental protection and utility regulation departments was met largely with initial optimism, House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero raised a potential red flag Wednesday afternoon.

The Norwalk Republican specifically said he fears that merging the Department of Public Utility Control — which is overseen by a five-member authority rather than a single commissioner — with the Department of Environmental Protection, could pull partisan politics into the rate-setting arena.

“I would hate to see a day when the DPUC is making a decision on rates, on overhead power lines, that can even have the appearance of politics,” Cafero said. But he quickly noted that full details of the proposed merger aren’t likely to be disclosed until Feb. 16, when Malloy unveils his new biennial budget plan, adding he would reserve final judgment until then.

Though the DPUC is overseen by a five-member authority, those members are political appointees, just as commissioners are. Still, Cafero said this is not the same as one departmental executive answering to the governor, and the DPUC has a history of acting in a largely nonpartisan manner.

“I think we’ve got to be very careful when we do these kinds of mergers,” he said.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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