The plan to cut carbon emissions that President Barack Obama laid out exposes again how badly Florida is positioned to capitalize on the global drive toward clean energy. Obama's proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has as much potential to create new jobs and rebuild communities as it does to reduce global warming. Yet Florida will be left out unless the state creates a cohesive energy policy and Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature begin to show forward-looking leadership.
The centerpiece of the plan Obama announced last month calls for tougher restrictions on carbon emissions from new and existing power plants, which account for about one-third of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. That alone would be a big help to Florida given the risks that pollution and climate change pose to the environment, coastal communities, tourism and public health.
But the economic impacts reach further. Obama would invest $8 billion in the coming year for clean energy research and development, to move away from coal toward cleaner energy sources. The administration would commit billions more in grants and loan guarantees to promote renewable energy, so-called "green" construction, the manufacture of more efficient appliances, and public works (such as transit systems, water projects and hospitals) that are more resilient to extreme weather.
This plan creates opportunities for states that have had the foresight to move away from dirty fuels already and to create a business climate that attracts public and private investment in clean technology. But the Sunshine State is hardly competitive. Florida is among a minority of states that has no renewable energy standards. It has no comprehensive plan to diversify its energy mix, relying mostly now on natural gas. The state generates little solar power despite the potential, and it has no real policy or significant money behind a serious plan for expanding it. The net effect is that Florida has told private industry to not bother looking for a partner here.
The ramifications extend beyond losing out on the federal money. The administration's seed money will act as a jobs bill for states. Those communities that work with the federal government on building stronger public works will have more modern transit systems, flood control and other vital infrastructure. Advances in research and technology also have a positive effect in states that are in the game. That's why clean energy is a sector that area business leaders have singled out as a priority for job development efforts.
Scott and the Legislature should provide more money and clearer direction on Florida's energy future to ensure the state can compete for renewal energy research, industry and jobs. Florida's vulnerability to the effects of climate change calls for vision and leadership, yet it continues to fall behind.