Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Conflict Looms for State and EPA

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Conflict Looms for State and EPA

Article excerpt

EMISSIONS: Governor's race may decide Florida's stand on new federal guidelines

The announcement Monday that federal officials will begin regulating carbon emissions from power plants in an effort to address global climate change sets up a potential conflict with Florida leaders who have been moving in the opposite direction.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring each state to develop a plan for reducing power plant emissions, something Florida lawmakers have strongly resisted in recent years.

The Republican-majority Legislature has repealed legislation pushed through by Charlie Crist -- the former Republican governor now running against Gov. Rick Scott as a Democrat -- that sought to limit carbon emissions.

Hostility toward such programs by top Florida officials raises questions about whether the state will cooperate with federal efforts to regulate carbon emissions, with some speculating that the deciding factor could be the 2014 governor's race.

"For the folks in Florida, this gubernatorial race is a very stark difference between the candidates" on energy policy, said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Smith's group has been trying to press Scott, a Republican, to outline his position on climate change. Scott said in the past that he doubts humans are contributing to the problem, but when asked about the issue lately the governor simply says, "I'm not a scientist."

The governor's office will have significant authority over how the federal emissions rules are implemented in Florida. The EPA is calling for a 30 percent reduction in power plants' carbon emissions nationwide from 2005 levels by 2030.

The goal is even higher in Florida, with a 38 percent cut proposed. But federal officials are giving states wide latitude to develop their own emissions reduction programs.

Each state has until June 2016 to submit a plan to the EPA and outline how it will achieve emissions reductions from cleaner fossil fuels, nuclear power, renewable energy, energy efficiency efforts or other proposals.

The process will be handled in Florida by the Department of Environmental Protection, possibly with input from the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. The next governor will appoint the DEP director and PSC members.

Scott removed a number of consumer-friendly PSC members appointed by Crist but otherwise has not taken a strong stand on energy issues as governor. If re-elected, he likely would face pressure from Republican lawmakers to challenge the EPA emissions regulations.

Former Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon led the effort in 2012 to repeal Crist's energy reform measures. Plakon said Monday that he believes the EPA rules will cost the state jobs.

"If it is something that proves to be onerous to our job creation, which is doing pretty well lately, then we should stand up," said Plakon, who questions the science behind climate change projections. …

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