Florida DEP, PEER tussle over carbon cap-and-trade

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says Gov. Charlie Crist has abandoned carbon emissions cap-and-trading in his quest for a U.S. Senate seat, but a state Department of Environmental Protection response suggests it’s all untrue.

PEER, a watchdog group of former government employees, says the state, under Crist, has decided to to drop its cap-and-trade rule under development and back out of a regional greenhouse gas initiative.

“Gov. 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,” Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips said in a news release. “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.”

But DEP Secretary Michael Sole says Florida hasn’t abandoned cap-and-trade. And he says the PEER news release is inaccurate.

A cap-and-trade program would set limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases and allow companies to purchase or sell credits towards achieving those limits. Gov. Crist in 2007 directed DEP to develop a cap-and-trade rule as part of his initiative to address climate change.

But Crist, who says he now is focusing on the economy, has raised concerns about the cost of pending federal cap-and-trade legislation, according to the Miami Herald. A St. Petersburg Times editorial this week criticized the hometown governor for walking away from a “laudable climate change agenda.”

After PEER issued a news release Wednesday, Sole fired back with his own statement.

Here’s how the feud between PEER and DEP unfolded:

DEP spokeswoman Amy Graham was quoted in Platts Megawatt Daily on Aug. 29 about Florida’s future in the cap-and-trade program, saying that DEP would not be submitting a rule to the Florida Legislature in 2010.

Also, Graham said Florida’s decision on whether to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which consists of ten states that sell carbon emissions credits, would be up to the Legislature.

In response to the article, Maryland Air Quality Program Administrator Diane Franks wrote in an e-mail Monday that Florida won’t be participating in an RGGI upcoming carbon credits auction. That e-mail has been posted by PEER at its Web site and was the basis for the group’s news release on Wednesday.

But Sole, contradicting his department’s spokeswoman’s statement from last week, said DEP had not decided yet whether to submit a cap-and-trade rule to the Legislature in 2010.

Sole did not say whether Graham’s quote on behalf of DEP was inaccurate or whether the department’s position had changed. Graham did not respond to that question from FloridaEnvironments.com or return a phone call seeking comment.

But Sole did say her quote was “out of context.” And he said it was “unfortunate” that the quote from Platts Megawatt Daily was distributed “as an official announcement of Florida’s position.”

“Currently, Florida’s rulemaking efforts are continuing, however, it is unclear as to whether DEP will be prepared to present a final rule to the 2010 Legislature,” Sole said. “As noted in current law, there are many factors that must be evaluated prior to submittal and the 2010 timeline is the soonest that we would be able to submit.”

Sole said no decisions or recommendations have been made on whether to join a regional initiative and added that the ultimate decision would be up to the Legislature.

PEER’s Phillips said he had not seen Sole’s statement, but he also said he saw no reason for the group to withdraw its news release. He said DEP apparently saw no reason to correct the record beforehand.

“The whole thing (cap-and-trade) I think would have been buried if we hadn’t released it,” Peer said.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com)