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Crist may be revising environmental stands

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist is cooling to global warming.

Under mounting criticism from fellow Republicans, Crist looks ready to cancel his climate-change summit and he's backing away from advocating a so-called cap-and-trade energy policy.

At his well-publicized climate summit last summer, Crist pushed a number of energy plans to encourage renewable energy development and establish a cap-and-trade market that would penalize fossil-fuel use.

But Crist's plans were shredded by the Republican Legislature and his cap-and-trade proposal has been bashed as a "tax" by his Republican Senate opponent, Marco Rubio, who has been ardently courting the GOP's conservative wing.

"Well, it may be (a tax). That may be accurate," Crist, who recently signed an anti-tax pledge, said Thursday. He wouldn't say whether he stills backs his own plan or similar versions in Congress.

Crist was even more tight-lipped about hosting another annual "Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate Change," which for two years attracted international media coverage and large, enthusiastic crowds to a downtown Miami hotel. Crist and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger basked in the glow and vowed sweeping reforms to combat global warming.

Asked Thursday about the summit's fate, Crist said he hadn't decided yet and cited the "cost" to potential sponsors.

Florida Power & Light, a major sponsor of last year's summit, gave at least $26,600 to Crist's record-setting, $4.3 million campaign account in the past three months.

An FPL spokesman wouldn't comment on whether the company would contribute to another summit.

Another previous sponsor, the Everglades Foundation, was prepared to donate $10,000 to another summit, said spokesman Kirk Fordham. The foundation's chief, investor Paul Tudor Jones, is a Crist fishing pal who contributed $9,600 to his campaign.

Other top sponsors — the Environmental Defense Fund and the Energy5.0 solar company — couldn't be reached for comment.

Rubio said the governor is retreating from his positions on climate change to placate members of his own party, though Crist denies it. Crist broke with the GOP political establishment this year by campaigning alongside President Barack Obama for his economic stimulus plan.

"It's hard to be a reliable check and balance to the Barack Obama administration when he has embraced its policies, whether it's energy or his support of the president's stimulus plan," Rubio said.

"Luckily, the Legislature stopped his energy tax," Rubio, a former Florida House speaker from West Miami, said. "Republicans care about this."

Crist, the state's best-known politician, is widely expected to beat Rubio in the 2010 primary. But there are signs that scattered Republican activists have turned against him. Rubio dominated straw polls held by local Republican parties in Pasco, Lee and Highlands counties. The Volusia County Republican Executive Committee cast an extraordinary vote Saturday to censure Crist for supporting Democrats, and Palm Beach County's GOP is preparing to vote on a similar measure.

Crist said he has thought "not much" about the Volusia vote and would wait until Election Day to comment more.

Touring Tallahassee-based Danfoss Turbocor, a manufacturer of eco-friendly industrial air-conditioning compressors, Crist talked Thursday about the need to turn to green energy. At a news conference, the company's president and chief executive, Ricardo Schneider, noted Crist's support of climate-change legislation.

But when asked after the news conference about the legislation, Crist sounded a more cautious note: "As with anything, any proposal, you want to try to do it right and not be over oppressive, if you will, as it relates to how you implement things."

Some environmentalists are "a little worried" about Crist's apparent shift, said Eric Draper, a lobbyist for Florida Audubon and a Democratic candidate for state agriculture commissioner.

While noting the disappointment in Crist's decision to endorse offshore oil drilling last year, Draper and other environmentalists credit Crist for moving the agenda dramatically.

"He got the conversation going. It was not happening before," Draper said. "But it has stalled. And we need to finish the job."

Marc Caputo can be reached at Miami Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

Crist may be revising environmental stands 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 9:46pm]
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