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Rick Scott and Alex Sink diverge on environment

If you don't think humans cause global warming, offshore drilling might still be a good idea for Florida and growth management should be left to local governments and not state bureaucrats, then Republican Rick Scott is your candidate for governor.

If, on the other hand, you are worried about climate change, oppose offshore drilling near Florida and want to keep the state Department of Community Affairs as a watchdog on growth plans, then Democrat Alex Sink is the candidate to pick.

The two major-party gubernatorial candidates could not be farther apart on environmental issues. Even their level of engagement differs: Scott's campaign website lists just two general bullet points under the header of "environment," while Sink's site offers, among other things, a 10-page plan for promoting alternatives to fossil fuels.

When the Sierra Club sent both candidates a questionnaire, Sink responded, but Scott did not, said Cecilia Height, the club's political chairwoman in Florida. She said she could not remember the last time a candidate did not even bother to try appealing to the club's 28,000 Florida members.

"Rick has definitely broken the traditional campaign mold," explained Brian Burgess, a public relations consultant working for the Scott campaign. "We look for opportunities where Rick's 7-7-7 Jobs Plan can get the most traction and then try to leverage that into support."

In an election season in which saving jobs counts for more than saving the planet, Scott may not have to worry about the Sierra Club endorsement. Scott is betting that the green issue most Florida voters are worried about is how to get more green in their wallets. According to Sink, though, the environment and the economy are so intertwined in Florida that you can't promote one by promoting the other.

"It's about jobs," she said. For instance, she pointed out, "we have a lot of fallow pasture lands," that could be converted into producers of biofuels, creating jobs.

Sink has been talking about the need to address climate change and promote alternatives to fossil fuels almost since her first days as the state's chief financial officer. In 2007 she flew to England and Scotland to talk with officials there about how they were reducing greenhouse gases.

Scott, meanwhile, is firmly on the side of those who don't buy the scientific consensus that climate change is real and is primarily caused by human activity. "I have not been convinced," he told reporters in July. Asked what he needs to convince him, "Something more convincing than what I've read." He did not, however, say what he had read.

Scott also continues to support offshore drilling, though he said drilling within 10 miles of the Florida coast won't proceed until it is safer. On his website he says he "believes it is a bit ridiculous that foreign countries can drill for oil a few miles off Florida's shores while, our citizens are getting hammered by high gasoline prices."

Sink, a longtime opponent of offshore drilling, contends that this summer's Deepwater Horizon disaster should put an end to the effort to drill anywhere near Florida's beaches. She was especially critical of last year's last-minute push by incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, to slide a bill through the Legislature allowing drilling within 3 miles. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

"These people came in the middle of the night to Tallahassee, and they said drilling is safe," Sink said. "I think we've all kind of awakened to the fallacy of that idea."

There are a few environmental issues where the candidates agree. They both want to restore the Everglades, for instance, and they both want to restore funding for the popular Florida Forever land-buying program. Both support nuclear energy as part of the state's future power supply.

And neither of them would vote for Amendment 4, the Hometown Democracy-supported constitutional change that would require a popular vote on any changes to a city or county's growth plan. However, they don't agree on the need for a state agency to keep a rein on sprawl.

Sink says she wants "a strong Growth Management Act," and supports reauthorizing the Department of Community Affairs. The department, which reviews changes to local growth plans and can block those that might violate statewide goals of protecting the environment or saving water, will go out of business next year if the Legislature refuses to reauthorize it.

To Scott, that would be good riddance to bad bureaucrats. In his view, the department, nicknamed the DCA, is standing in the way of reviving the state's real estate and construction-based economy. "It's really impacted people that want to build things," he said. "Their attitude is, 'How can somebody in Tallahassee tell my local community what we want, and DCA sits there and tells us we can't do it?' … I'll tell you, it's really killing jobs."

This story was edited to reflect the following correction: The Sierra Club of Florida has 28,000 members. Because of incorrect information from the Sierra Club, a story Sunday on Florida's gubernatorial candidates contained an inaccurate number.

Rick Scott and Alex Sink diverge on environment 10/23/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 25, 2010 5:51pm]
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