By Bruce Ritchie
President Obama's decision Monday to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review California's request to set auto emissions standards is increasing the debate in Florida over Gov. Charlie Crist's proposal to follow California's lead.
Crist in 2007 said that Florida would adopt California's standards to help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. In Florida, 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from motor vehicles, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
But the Bush administration and the EPA last year refused to approve California's standards, essentially blocking any state from following California's lead. Critics said setting separate state emissions standards for greenhouse gases would raise the cost of vehicles and create a regulatory patchwork.
Crist said Monday he applauds the president's decision.
“The waiver is a critical aspect for California, Florida and 17 other states which have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, automobile emissions standards," Crist said in a statement. “Florida stands ready to assist the federal government in addressing this important issue, and we will continue our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy security and protect the state’s environment.”
Amid concerns raised by automobile manufacturers and dealers about Crist's proposal, the Legislature in 2008 said it must approve any auto emissions standards set by Florida. The Environmental Regulation Commission last month voted to recommend approval of the California standards.
Environmental groups nationally and in Florida on Monday hailed Obama's decision. Federal approval removes the argument that Florida shouldn't adopt California's standards because the federal government would not approve, said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida.
"All of the objections the automakers had are falling by the wayside while the case for doing a state rule continues to grow," Draper said.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers will be asking the Legislature not to adopt California's emissions standards, said Dan Stengle, a Tallahassee attorney who represents the alliance. The group, he said, remains concerned about having a patchwork of state requirements, especially during an economic downturn.
The alliance has estimated that California's standards could drive up the cost of vehicles by $1,000 to $3,000, Stengle said. But DEP says car owners will save $1,000 to $2,300 over the life of a vehicle with new federal mileage standards and the California emissions rule.
Auto manufacturers, Stengle said, want to work with the Obama administration to develop uniform automobile standards nationwide in time for the 2011 model year.
"With the worst market conditions since World War II, they (auto manufacturers) think clarity and a national approach is best for the automobile manufacturers and for an economic comeback," Stengle said.
See national coverage of the Obama announcement:
New York Times
Los Angeles Times