A state environmental board is scheduled to vote today on whether Florida should adopt California's strict standards for greenhouse gas emissions. In the larger sense, this is the right idea in the wrong venue. Global warming is a global problem best resolved by nations working together, not individual states. But perhaps the states can help prod the federal government to finally forge a coherent national policy on climate change.
The proposed rule would cap emissions on new cars, trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles in Florida. Gov. Charlie Crist called for the measure in an executive order last year as part of broader strategy to reduce the environmental damage of global warming. Florida would follow the lead of California and more than a dozen other states that have moved aggressively to cap greenhouse gases in the absence of any leadership on the issue in Washington.
The problem is not the policy. An outside analysis said the impact on costs of standards for most vehicles — $92 to $528 — would be so small it would "likely to be lost within the noise of negotiation for the actual purchase price." The caps would not apply to every individual car; automakers would meet a fleetwide average. They would have several years and many ways to meet the standards, including the benefit of credits. And the rule would not apply to military or emergency vehicles or to any off-road farming vehicles used in agriculture.
The problem here is procedure. California and the Environmental Protection Agency are locked in a court fight over the EPA's refusal to allow the state to set its own emissions rules aimed at raising fuel economy standards. Congress also has a pending investigation into whether the White House pressured the EPA into rejecting California's proposal. A House committee has obtained documents showing that the agency's scientific and legal staff recommended the California program go forward, but the White House has not detailed its involvement. So there is no real reason for Florida to jump into this fight now — except to build national support for more aggressive action from Washington.
There is reason to think change is on the way as the Bush administration moves out. Record gas prices this summer changed Americans' attitudes about mass transit and stoked the consumer market for more fuel-efficient cars. With all of those unsold sport utility vehicles sitting like dinosaurs on their car lots, the struggling automakers are belatedly getting the message. And both John McCain and Barack Obama also have promised to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. Whoever wins the election next week will change course and likely bring about a change in leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency.
If Florida wants to send a symbolic message today that it is on board with more aggressive efforts to curb vehicle emissions, fine. But make no mistake, this is an issue that ultimately should be resolved at the federal level.