In Washington, there is finally a formal acknowledgement that global warming endangers public welfare. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency — responding to a U.S. Supreme Court order the Bush administration had ignored — signaled it will seek to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. But in Tallahassee, the state House is on the verge of squandering an opportunity to make the state a leader in climate change legislation and renewable energy. With less than two weeks to go before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn, the House needs to join the Senate and Gov. Charlie Crist in addressing Florida's long-term energy options.
The leading proposal in Tallahassee isn't perfect. The legislation, SB 1154, expected to be approved by a final Senate committee today and headed for the Senate floor, seeks to balance affordable energy with the need to reduce global-warming greenhouse gases. It does not promote renewable energy aggressively enough. But it is a start. Unfortunately, the House leadership appears uninterested and has yet to schedule a single committee hearing on the legislation.
Crist got the ball rolling in 2007 with a series of executive orders that called on Florida to reduce its greenhouse emissions and to generate up to 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. The legislation the governor and the Senate are embracing is hardly a surprise to House leaders, the industry or the public. Crist and environmental advocates even pushed the state's Public Service Commission to raise its targets for renewable energy in an effort to have the Legislature pass an energy bill this year.
The Senate bill would meet the governor's "20 by '20" target, but phase in the requirement for finding renewable supplies so as to not overburden the industry or consumers. Utilities would be required to meet the renewable targets, but they would not have to spend more than 2 percent of their annual revenues to do so. The 2 percent cap is about half the national average. While that modest sum might be justified in this recession, to keep utilities from passing on higher rates to their customers, the state should revisit the cap as the economy improves. Supporters say the $370 million it would generate annually is enough to kick-start the renewable energy industry in Florida.
The Senate bill also allows new generation from nuclear plants and coal-fired plants with carbon capture technology to be counted as renewable energy. Neither belongs in a clean energy bill. That the Senate capped the amount of nuclear and coal-fired power that could be included as renewable shows the political games at play. The state already offers incentives for building nuclear plants. The purpose of this legislation is to find truly clean and renewable sources of power. Yet passing the perfect bill some day is less important than getting a start now while Florida has a champion in the governor's office. Renewable energy is in all Floridians' long-term interests. House leaders should not let this opportunity pass.