On Tuesday, Florida has the chance to take a major step toward energy independence. That's the day the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission votes on Gov. Charlie Crist's common-sense proposal to make cars run cleaner.
Most people know by now that the pollution coming out of car tailpipes is one of the main culprits in global warming. And when it comes to global warming, Floridians are more vulnerable than other Americans to both rising sea levels and more powerful hurricanes.
It makes sense for us to do something about this sooner rather than later. The governor's proposal gets to the heart of the matter by creating incentives for more efficient cars. The new standards would require a 23 percent cut in heat-trapping emissions from new cars by 2012 and a 30 percent cut by 2016.
Since 40 percent of Florida's carbon dioxide emissions come from passenger cars and light trucks, working to cut emissions from tailpipes is an important place to start. Under Crist's proposal, individual vehicles would not have to meet the standard. Instead, the standard is an average of all cars sold in the state. Some vehicles — such as those used for emergency services or for the military — would be exempt from efficiency requirements.
No doubt, you will hear bellyaching from the high-priced Florida lobbyists for the automobile industry. We've heard it before, when they fought safety improvements like seat belts and air bags. Instead of improving technology, they have clung to old models, and I think we can all see where it's gotten them now.
If the public demands cleaner cars, automobile manufacturers will build them. It's as simple as that.
Crist's proposal is modeled after California's existing clean-air standards. Twelve other states have adopted the standards, and another six, including Florida, are considering doing so.
Automobile industry lobbyists have been running around the state trying to scare Florida consumers. They falsely claim that requiring cleaner cars will raise the price of a vehicle by $4,000. An economic analysis by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimates that cleaner technology will initially add $100 to $700 to the cost of a new car, depending on the make and model. That cost is offset, however, because cleaner cars run more efficiently and use less gas. Over the lifetime of their cars, drivers will see a net savings of $1,000 to $2,300 per vehicle, the DEP estimates.
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has a new book called Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — And How it Can Renew America. Friedman's premise is that our last industrial revolution was information technology — computers and the Internet. He says we are on the eve of the next step: the energy technology revolution. The country that dominates it will be the healthiest and most secure on the planet. Crist is wisely positioning Florida as a leader in America's energy technology revolution.
Floridians are ready for more efficient and cleaner vehicles, and Crist has found a commonsense way to make that happen. After the Environmental Regulation Commission votes, the proposal will be considered by the Florida Legislature. Let's let our leaders know that we're ready for cleaner cars in Florida.
David Guest of Tallahassee is managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice (Earthjustice.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to enforcing and strengthening environmental laws.