MIAMI — A year ago, Gov. Charlie Crist created headlines by announcing a bold plan to fight global warming pollution at a climate change summit. He returns here today to host the second summit with his environmental credentials in question after he joined presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain last week in endorsing offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Even so, environmentalists are not giving up on the "green governor." Despite expressing disappointment over his reversal on offshore drilling, as well as his advocacy of nuclear energy, most state environmental leaders give him good marks overall. He has won nationwide plaudits for his climate change leadership, while also shepherding a new energy bill through the Legislature.
"I believe that Gov. Crist truly is a leader on climate change," said Melissa Meehan, a Florida-based organizer for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which supports aggressive measures to tackle global warming. "He has changed the whole dynamic."
The summit will bring together industry leaders, policymakers, academics, scientists, environmentalists and the business community "to explore opportunities for expanding Florida's renewable and alternative energy marketplace and greening our business community," according to the Governor's Office. It will seek to highlight Crist's "there is gold in green" message, focusing on how investment in clean technologies can stimulate the state's economic development, rather than hurt it. Florida Power & Light says it will unveil a series of new solar power generation projects in South and Central Florida.
When he laid out his plan in July, Crist issued a series of executive orders designed to achieve a massive 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, as well as "green" building codes and boosting investment in alternative energy technology. Crist called for utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind. He also called for adoption of California's tough vehicle-emissions standard, which mandates a 30 percent reduction by 2016.
Today, Crist is expected to sign a wide-ranging energy bill passed by the Legislature in May that will make Florida the first state in the Southeast to adopt a "cap-and-trade" system to control the gases believed to cause global warming. Dirty companies that pollute beyond their cap will be able to buy credits from other clean companies whose emissions fall below their cap.
Critics, however, say lobbyists for the power companies and car manufacturers got their way in some key areas. At the last minute, vehicle-emissions standards were dropped. The bill instead smooths the way for new nuclear power plants, which are expensive and produce radioactive waste, but have zero greenhouse gas emissions. Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light have both proposed building nuclear plants in Levy and Miami-Dade counties.