Lawmakers to Consider Reducing Fla. Pollution
Feb 26, 2009
The Ledger--February 24, 2009
By BRIAN SKOLOFF
The Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH | With much of this peninsular state situated at or below sea level, parts of Florida could disappear under water if global warming predictions indicating significant sea level rise come true.
It’s a state with much to lose and much to protect, from miles of beaches that bring in millions of tourism dollars, to swamps and wetlands, the struggling Everglades, endangered species, already limited freshwater supply and a burgeoning population expected to nearly double to 32 million people by 2050.
Environmentalists say Florida must do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, including increasing the use of renewable energy and tightening emission standards for new automobiles.
The Legislature is set in its upcoming session beginning next month to consider proposed rules approved by state agencies that would do both.
Last year, the Florida Public Service Commission recommended that lawmakers require the state get 20 percent of its electric power from renewable sources – such as solar and wind – by the end of 2020, a proposal backed by Gov. Charlie Crist.
Also, the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission gave approval to adopt California’s emissions rules for cars that would force automakers to sell more fuel-efficient vehicles in Florida, a move the industry argues will drive up prices and limit availability.
Environmentalists and states have for years urged the federal government to limit tailpipe emissions. The federal Clean Air Act, however, allows states to set stricter standards than the federal government for refineries, factories and other stationary pollution sources, but it bars states from setting more stringent pollution standards for motor vehicles.
The Environmental Protection Agency, under former President George W. Bush, denied California’s proposal for a waiver to force reduced emissions under the Clean Air Act, requiring SUVs, minivans and cars to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2016.
Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia, including Florida, have adopted or are considering adopting California’s standards.
President Barack Obama has signaled his support by directing the EPA to reconsider its previous denials of applications by states wanting to set their own limits.
The auto industry isn’t pleased, and claims the cost of adopting the standards will be passed onto consumers already struggling in a bleak economy.
“The consumer is the most important thing in this whole debate. No one is answering the question of cost. No one is answering the question of what vehicles will be available. We’re concerned about all of those for the consumer,” Ted Smith of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association said last year when the commission voted to adopt California’s standards.
Michael Sole, head of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, said any increase in vehicle cost would be paid for within six years by the amount of gasoline saved.
“It will save the consumer money,” Sole said. “It will actually improve Florida’s energy security by reducing the need for petroleum, and finally it’s going to help our environment.”
Sole said Floridians currently use about 8.6 billion gallons of gasoline annually.
He said under the new rule, consumers would save 440 million gallons of gas in the first year, and 2.7 billion gallons annually by 2016.
The cost to the consumer for a new car would likely only rise $90 to $600, said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida.
Crist remained optimistic that the rule would pass the Legislature, despite the body’s Joint Administrative Procedures Committee voting this month to accept a staff report critical of the proposal.
“I don’t think there’s much of a problem with (the proposed law),” Crist said. “I think we just need to control our emissions and make sure that we’re protecting the air.”