Thursday, July 12, 2007

Florida Governor to Sign Sweeping Environmental Orders

by Mary Ellen Klas
Miami Herald
July 10, 2007

Florida will adopt California's car-pollution standards -- the toughest in the nation -- and become the first state in the Southeast to enact targets for reducing greenhouse gases, under executive orders Gov. Charlie Crist plans to sign Friday in Miami.

Drafts of the orders released Tuesday would require the state secretary of environmental protection to immediately adopt rules to limit pollution-causing emissions for cars, diesel engines and electric companies. The orders also impose tough new energy conservation goals for state agencies, demand better fuel efficiency from state-owned vehicles and require state cars to "use ethanol and biodiesel fuels when locally available.''

But the most optimistic step in Crist's green agenda is the requirement to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the air to 1990 levels by 2025, and 80 percent lower by 2050, in spite of what is expected to be a near doubling of the state's population.

''Florida is the second fastest-growing state in the union with respect to the annual increase of new greenhouse gas emissions,'' the governor's draft order states, adding "immediate actions are available and required to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in Florida.''

Crist will sign the orders at a two-day climate change summit he is hosting in Miami beginning Thursday. The summit will feature speeches by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and environmental activists Robert Kennedy Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt IV.

The governor's orders say the new rules can be enacted without approval from the Legislature because they are based on existing state environmental laws.


The orders would bring Florida's pollution controls up to par with at least two dozen other states on the East and West coasts but would be the strictest in the Southeast.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush rejected appeals from environmentalists to support similar pollution control standards, although he quietly drafted a carbon-reductions policy in the final months of his term.

Crist, who was elected in November, has vowed to make reducing greenhouse gases in Florida a priority. One of the orders he will sign says the state's vulnerability to rising ocean levels and violent weather makes "global climate change one of the most important issues facing the state of Florida this century.''

Under the California emissions standards, automakers that sell cars in Florida beginning with the 2009 model year would have to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, by 25 percent for cars and 18 percent for sport utility vehicles.

At least 12 other states have adopted California's standards, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Automakers are challenging the standards in court and, for two years, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has refused to allow the new law to take effect.

Environmentalists hailed the proposals, and utility executives said they were cautious but encouraged.

''They're very significant and very comprehensive,'' said Susan Glickman, a consultant for the National Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups. "It's clear from these executive orders that he is dead serious about reducing [carbon dioxide] emissions. The governor's goals now provide the starting point for the Legislature to enact them.''


The governor's orders also require electric companies to reduce greenhouse emissions to 2000 levels by 2017 and to 1990 levels by 2025. They also ask the Public Service Commssion, the state agency that regulates utilities, to impose rules this year that require electric companies to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, ''with a strong focus on solar and wind energy.'' Regulators would set the deadlines.

Florida Power & Light President Armando Olivera said he hadn't seen the proposed executive order but the company, the largest producer of solar-power and wind-power energy in the nation, generally supports increasing the state's reliance on renewable energy.

''It depends on what the rules are and how those rules are developed,'' he said. "But we are obviously very supportive of renewables and we think it should be a huge element of our energy policy.''

Crist's orders include several elements of an energy bill passed by legislators that he vetoed last month because it didn't go far enough.

Among them: State agencies must buy cars with the highest fuel efficiency, maintain vehicles to maximize gas mileage and use biofuels when possible instead of gasoline. Rental car contracts must put a priority on fuel efficiency.

The state will also give agencies a preferred products list and require that meetings and conferences take place in hotels or centers that have been given a ''green lodging'' certification from the Department of Environmental Protection.


Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who supported the bill Crist vetoed and authored a bill last year that authorized a state energy plan, said he was encouraged by the governor's proposals but considers it the first step.

''The goal here is to move forward fast,'' he said. "I'm hopeful the executive order does that, but we still have to do legislation.''

Copyright 2007 Miami Herald Media Co.


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