Florida Decision on Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Still Up in the Air
TALLAHASSEE, Florida, September 8, 2009 (ENS) - "Florida Governor Charlie Crist has decided that his state will not join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or pursue further major efforts to combat climate change," according to a "notice" released September 2 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER. But this conclusion is not accurate, RGGI and Florida state officials say.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cooperative effort by 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. RGGI includes Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

"Rather than issue a public announcement, Florida's decision was communicated to other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic state members of RGGI that the Sunshine State would not participate in the upcoming September 9, 2009 auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances," said PEER in its September 2 news release on the issue.

But Florida was never expected to participate in the September 9 auction, says Emilee Pierce, communications manager for RGGI, Inc., a nonprofit corporation which administers the quarterly auctions.

"In order to participate in an auction, any state would have to sign an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] that establishes their participation in this regional effort," Pierce told ENS in an interview.

"Then a state has to have in place regulations that create allowances," Pierce explained, a regulatory process that goes through the state legislature.

"We're certainly open to new member states," said Pierce.

What PEER characterized inaccurately as a "notice" was in fact an RGGI internal email containing excerpts of an August 29 article from "Platts Megawatt Daily" that quoted Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Amy Graham.

"The decision of whether to join a regional initiative will ultimately rest with the Florida Legislature," said Graham in the article. "While the department is actively following the federal debate and assessing its potential impacts on Florida, the cap-and-trade rule project will continue its work with stakeholders and in discerning policy initiatives Florida may wish to advocate for at the national level."

"No final decisions on recommendations have been made," said Graham. "All policy options are still under consideration including the decision of whether to join a regional initiative either as a member or an observer."

Florida's Stanton power plant, operated by the Orlando Utilities Commission, is fueled by bituminous coal and landfill gas. (Photo by Power)

But Graham also states in the article that, "Due to the strong likelihood of federal action on climate policy, the Florida DEP will not be presenting a proposed cap-and-trade rule to the 2010 Legislature."

Florida has been considering joining RGGI since 2007 under the Governor's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change and has produced an electric utility greenhouse gas cap-and-trade proposal.

In response to the article, Maryland Air Quality Program Administrator Diane Franks wrote in an e-mail Monday that Maryland Department of Environment Secretary Shari Wilson had asked her to "circulate" the information that, "The expectation of a federal GHG program has prompted Florida to decline becoming a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)."

Franks' email was posted by PEER at its website and was the basis for the group's news release on September 2.

Florida DEP Secretary Michael Sole says the PEER news release is not accurate and Florida has not decided whether or not to present the cap-and-trade proposal to the Florida Legislature.

If Florida does join the RGGI, it would have likely increased revenue for the 10 RGGI states that have watched their expectations of revenue fall, the Franks email explains.

"Florida's power sector emits over twice the emissions (127 MMTCO2) of RGGI's largest state, New York (56 MMTCO2), and would have raised RGGI's total 170 million metric ton cap by about 75%," the Franks email states. MMTCO2 stands for one million metric tons of carbon dioxide, CO2, equivalent.

While the 10 RGGI states have received $366.5 million to date from auctioning CO2 emissions allowances, the sum is less than they had hoped, states Franks in her email. The last RGGI auction in June had a clearing price for 2009 allowances that was down 28 cents to $3.23 a short ton from the previous auction.

PEER views what it characterizes as Governor Crist's "decision" as part of a "rightward shift" since he began pursuing the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez. On August 28, Governor Crist appointed George LeMieux, his 2006 campaign manager who then served as his chief of staff, to fill out the remainder of Martinez' term, and has expressed his intention to run for the seat in the 2010 election.

In August, the governor canceled a third annual session of his Climate Change Summit, citing meeting costs. His support of action on climate change has become a rallying point for critics within the state Republican Party, where he is in a primary election contest.

"Governor Crist's retreat signifies that it is becoming increasing difficult for environmentally concerned citizens to advance in today's Republican Party - and that is a real shame," said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. "Of all the states, Florida arguably has the most to lose from rising sea levels, bigger, nastier storms and the other side effects associated with climate change."

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.