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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist kicks off Climate Summit



In a 12-minute speech punctuated by applause, Gov. Charlie Crist opened his two day Serve to Preserve summit on global climate change. His two standing ovations made it clear just how much political capital he has to spend, as more than 600 participants and 200 members of the press crowding into the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami.

"We must acknowledge that there is a strong body of scientific evidence that global warming is real," Crist said.

Florida is uniquely vulnerable to rising sea levels, with 1,300 miles of coastline, the second largest lake in the nation, and thousands of miles of rivers, Crist said. Climate change threatens Florida's two biggest industries: tourism and agriculture. Those liabilities are also an asset; ethanol can be produced from sugar cane and citrus waste.

In a nod to the Republican base, Crist said energy independence is more than an environmental concern. It's also an issue of national security, he emphasized.

"We can require electric utilities to produce less carbon emissions, and they're willing to do that," Crist said.

Crist said it was important to create a regional initiative, so that businesses have consistent rules across state lines. Florida will create a volunteer "army of conservationists."

In a press conference that followed, Crist fielded questions about how he plans to meet his ambitious targets. So far, he's provided few details.

"It's ambitious. I understand that. But it's important to be ambitious," Crist said, saying the requirements he plans to sign are do-able and reasonable.

The heat in Miami is expected to top 90 degrees today, but the hotel air conditioning has kept the high-ceilinged lobby slightly warmer than a meat locker. Participants meander through clutching Starbucks coffee cups (made of 10 percent  post-consumer recycled fiber.)

But things are changing. The hotel encourages reusing towels to save washing water. Motion-sensor switches turn off public  bathroom lights when the room is empty.

"I think I'm getting the solar panels finally on the mansion next week," Crist said happily.

So are the utilities really willing? After the press conference, Mike Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of  Environmental Protection, said Florida had enormous resources and opportunities when it came to renewable energy.

"Without question the utility industry is going to be part of moving this agenda forward, and they're willing to be part of the solution," Sole said, conceding that the hard work of drawing up new rules for the industry is still to come.

-Asjylyn Loder and Craig Pittman

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 2:39pm]


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