Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DEP holding back on cap-and-trade -- for now

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection won't ask the Legislature to approve a proposed carbon cap-and-trade rule in the legislative session that began yesterday, according to DEP Secretary Michael Sole.

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 directed DEP to develop a carbon emissions trading rule for electric utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change. HB 7135 in 2008 said DEP must seek approval by the Legislature after Jan. 1, 2010 before adopting the rule.

Sole said the department made a decision in the fall not to seek approval in the 2010 session. He said the department has been watching the progression of federal cap-and-trade legislation and that it could not meet a timeline that included approval by the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.

"I expect it to be a difficult discussion" in the Legislature, Sole said. "I don't want to go in there with something just rushed through."

But he said that doesn't mean the proposal is dead, even though it will require DEP under a new governor to seek legislative approval. Crist decided to run for the U.S. Senate rather than seek re-election as governor this year.

DEP, Sole said, is continuing to investigate the possibility of Florida joining with other southeast states in a regional cap-and trade partnership or joining an existing partnership, such as the Western Climate Initiative or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast.

Working within a regional partnership could reduce administrative costs, Sole said. But joining either the western or northeastern partnerships would not prevent utilities from setting up across the state line in Alabama and Georgia to avoid Florida's cap-and-trade program -- while Florida still gets the emissions.

"Florida by itself with cap-and-trade is difficult to work," Sole said. "It can (work), but by itself it's difficult to work."

Susan Story, CEO of Gulf Power, said many states are waiting on the outcome of federal carbon emissions legislation before moving forward on cap-and-trade systems. She said her utility is waiting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine how it will treat biomass plants before it decides on converting its coal-fired plant in Sneads to biomass after 2013.

"I think if the federal law passes, that it is in the best interest to have a federal system -- not a state-by-state system," she said.

Susan Glickman, an adviser to environmental groups, said it's understandable that Florida is waiting to move forward.

"There was just never any drumbeat for Florida to do cap-and-trade independently," she said. "The idea they are not going to bring it up in the Legislature is understandable. And since (Crist's executive orders in 2007), there has been huge progress on the federal level in discussion of creating a cap or some constraints on carbon."

Editors note: This is an expanded version of a story that appeared first in the Daily Current, produced by the Florida Tribune for

(Photo courtesy of the University of Florida TREEO Center. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

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