Tallahassee — Florida Governor Charlie Crist has decided that his state will not join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or pursue further major efforts to combat climate change, according to a notice released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Florida, once a leader among states in addressing climate issues, instead will sit on the sidelines and await the outcome of federal cap-and-trade legislation.
Rather than issue a public announcement, Florida’s decision was communicated to other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic state members of RGGI that the Sunshine State would not participate in the upcoming September 9, 2009 auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances. In addition, Gov. Crist “will not be presenting a proposed cap-and-trade rule to the 2010 Legislature,” stated the notice quoting Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Amy Graham.
The move will limit the potential impact of the 10-state RGGI market. Florida’s participation would have increased the program by more than 75% with Florida accounting for more than twice the emissions of the biggest RGGI state, New York. RGGI allowances have been dropping in price due to over-allocation of emission credits, a problem that has plagued other cap-and-trade systems.
Gov. Crist’s decision culminates a steady rightward shift since he began pursuing a now vacant U.S. Senate seat. In August, he canceled a third annual session of his highly regarded Climate Change Summit, citing meeting costs. His support of action on climate change has become a rallying point for opponents within the state Republican Party. His Senate primary opponent, House Speaker Mike Rubio, recently crowed, “I guarantee you he will not be touting the work he did with Sheryl Crow as part of his primary platform,” referring to the popular singer identified with green causes.
“Gov. Crist’s retreat signifies that it is becoming increasing difficult for environmentally concerned citizens to advance in today’s Republican Party – and that is a real shame,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Of all the states, Florida arguably has the most to lose from rising sea levels, bigger, nastier storms and the other side effects associated with climate change.”
Florida’s rate of greenhouse emissions has soared in recent years, rising by more than a third above 1990 levels. The state’s rate of growth may be finally slowing only because its population boom is now becoming a bust, with Florida now losing population for the first time in decades.
“Gov. Crist used to proclaim that Florida’s future will turn on the quality of our environment so it is unfortunate that these values must take a back seat to political advancement,” Phillips added, noting that a huge purchase of sugar lands for the purpose of benefiting the Everglades had been a signature issue for Gov. Crist in which he had invested substantial political as well as fiscal capital. “What good does it do to ‘save’ the Everglades only to have it to sink back into Florida Bay?”