Florida Caves on Climate Change

| Thu Sep. 3, 2009 12:34 PM EDT

Not long ago, Florida Republican Charlie Crist was known across the country as "the environmental governor." As his first major initiative, he brought in fellow moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger to headline a Summit on Global Climate Change. He created a climate "action team" that issued reports that could have come out of the Sierra Club. And he signed green executive orders and pledged support for cap and trade. Florida, after all, is set to be inundated by rising sea levels and hammered by stronger hurricanes. In 2007, Crist said "global climate change is one of the most important issues we face this century."

That was then. Now, as Crist prepares to enter the state's Republican Senate primary, he's starting to sound less like climatologist James Hansen than Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe. Last week, his administration told other states that Florida would not join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the East Coast's cap and trade scheme, or present a proposed cap and trade rule to the Florida legislature. A spokesperson for the state's Department of Environmental Protection said the decision was prompted by "the strong liklihood of federal action on climate policy."

Environmental groups aren't buying that explanation. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said the move was a major blow to the 10-state RGGI effort; Florida's participation would have increased the size of the program by 75 percent and likely raised the price of emissions permits. It also would have helped build a bipartisan case for federal legislation. "Gov. Crist’s retreat signifies that it is becoming increasing difficult for environmentally concerned citizens to advance in today’s Republican Party," said Florida PEER directory Jerry Phillips, "and that is a real shame."

A column in Tuesday's Orlando Sentinel notes that the 2009 legislative session in Florida was "a disaster for greenies." The House killed climate change legislation, and along with it, mandates for renewable energy. Crist says there may be no climate change summit this year. "Simply do the political calculation," writes Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas. "He would easily beat any Democrat in the Senate race. . .So environmentalists are of little use to him now. . .And when it comes to climate change, there is nothing in it for Crist anymore."