Obama vehicle announcement likely ends Fla. debate

President Obama’s proposal today for a new fuel-economy standard probably ends the debate over whether Florida should adopt California’s more stringent standard — if the Florida Legislature hasn’t already killed the issue here.

As part of his initiative in 2007 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Charlie Crist directed the Department of Environmental Protection to move towards adopting California vehicle tailpipe standards. But the Legislature in 2008 required that it give approval for any new vehicle standard, and then the House and Senate this year failed to take up a bill to adopt DEP’s recommendation.

Obama, flanked by automobile executives and environmentalists at the White House, proposed setting a unified federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fleet standard at 35.5 mpg by 2016 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. That’s 8 mpg more than was required, Obama said.

DEP Secretary Mike Sole issued a statement applauding Obama’s announcement and embracing a national standard. Sole said it would improve energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and allowing Floridians to spend less on gasoline.

“We stand by the Obama administration’s decision to adopt more stringent CAFE standards and share the belief that a unified national standard is the best solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and minimizing the effects of climate change in Florida and nationwide,” Sole said.

California is the only state allowed under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt its own automobile emissions standards. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger attended Obama’s White House ceremony to announce the proposal and later praised the new federal standard.

Tallahassee attorney Wade Hopping, representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said Crist’s proposal to adopt California’s standard is dead now because even California won’t be using its own adopted standard, which had not been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Automobile manufacturers had been critical of the Florida proposal to adopt California’s tailpipe standards.

“It means people won’t be able to run across the border form Florida to Georgia to buy cheaper cars, or they won’t have any incentive to do that,” Hopping said.

While praising Obama’s announcement, environmentalist Jay Liles said the issue could be raised again in Florida if Congress waters down the federal proposal. He said Obama’s announcement will help Florida drivers save on the cost of fuel.

“We’ll have to see what transpires now,” said Liles, policy consultant to the Florida Wildlife Federation. “But it is very encouraging.”

White House photograph by Samantha Appleton.
Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not redistribute without permission.