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State race heats up on environment

The gloves are off in the race for District 49 state representative.

In one of the first jabs in what has been a polite campaign, Democrat Nicholas Alexiou has criticized Republican Larry Crow for saying he is an environmentalist while accepting a $250 campaign contribution from a company building a gas pipeline through Florida.

If Crow is really an environmentalist, then he should give the money back to Houston-based Florida Gas Transmission Co., Alexiou said Friday.

In an Oct. 17 Times story, Crow described himself as a "strident environmentalist."

The pipeline company has been cited by government regulators for environmental violations during construction of a $900-million natural gas pipeline running from Suwannee County south to Palm Beach. The pipeline is not scheduled to come through Pinellas County, although it has a spur through Hillsborough, Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.

"I think you ought to be discriminating about who you take money from," Alexiou said.

Crow said he was unaware of the pipeline company's particular contribution. But he pointed out that he doesn't have the time or resources, to scrutinize every contribution.

Besides, accepting money doesn't mean he is aligned with its contributor, Crow said.

"I pay no particular heed to a particular philosophy," Crow said. "If they want to give me money, I will be glad to take it."

So far, Crow's campaign has collected about $39,000 in contributions and has about $5,000 on hand, said John Koulianos, Crow's campaign treasurer.

Crow said he would be happy to challenge Alexiou to an environmental debate.

In his news release, Alexiou states he has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Friends of the Environment and the Florida League of Conservation Voters.

The two, along with Libertarian candidate Paul Crumrine, are trying to capture a district that snakes from Tarpon Springs to Pinellas Park and includes parts of Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin and Palm Harbor. They are vying to replace Sandra Mortham, a Republican from Largo, who is running for secretary of state.

A spokeswoman for Florida Gas Transmission said the company supports about 40 candidates throughout Florida.

"We're interested in supporting people who are pro-business and pro-free enterprise and people who are interested in a strong Florida and a clean environment," said spokeswoman Elaine McCafland. "We think they can go hand in hand."

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