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Florida to introduce tough greenhouse gas targets

By Jim Loney (Reuters) - July 11, 2007

Florida, the fourth most-populous U.S. state, will impose strict new air-pollution standards that aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050, according to draft regulations released on Wednesday.

Gov. Charlie Crist was expected to sign executive orders at a global warming conference in Miami this week setting new emissions targets for power companies, automobiles and trucks, toughen conservation goals for state agencies and require state-owned vehicles to use alternative fuels.

Florida would adopt many tough pollution standards set by California and mimicked by other states, which have implemented their own such regulations because Washington has failed to pass national laws. President George W. Bush has also rejected the international Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The rules would establish targets for Florida to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2017, to 1990 levels by 2025 and by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

“I’m delighted but not surprised,” said Preston Robertson, vice president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “This is the kind of leadership we need across the nation.”

Florida is one of the fastest-growing U.S. states, with a net gain of nearly 1,000 new residents per day. Its estimated population of 18 million ranks behind only California, Texas and New York.

The draft orders note Florida’s critical tourism industry, which brings nearly 85 million visitors a year, and the vulnerability of its 1,350 miles of coast to the possible effects of global warming, including higher seas and violent storms.

“All of the issues we work on — protecting land, keeping estuaries clean, and preventing unnecessary growth — none of them will mean very much if we have global sea rise,” Robertson said.

NEW TARGETS

Among the state’s new targets are milestones for electric utilities culminating in a reduction in emissions to 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Power companies would also be required to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, focusing on solar and wind power.

More than 70 percent of Florida’s electricity now comes from fossil fuels.

The regulations also call for adopting California’s new motor vehicle emission standards — requiring carmakers to build cars and trucks that reduce emissions by 25 percent by the 2009 model year — if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves them.

California passed the tougher standards but needs an EPA waiver to implement them. The EPA has promised to act on the request by year’s end.

Crist, a Republican, would also require state government to reduce emissions 10 percent from current levels by 2012, 25 percent by 2017 and 40 percent by 2025.

The new rules would be passed by executive orders, which do not need the approval of the legislature. But the orders also call for drafting a “climate change action plan” including recommendations for legislative changes to existing laws needed for enforcement.

New Jersey became the latest state to bypass Washington last week when Gov. John Corzine, a Democrat, signed a law mandating cuts of greenhouse gas emissions by about 16 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Environmentalists said the New Jersey law was tougher than California’s because the 2050 reduction is an enforceable standard while California’s is just a target. The drafts of Crist’s orders for Florida also refer to targets.

Crist is expected to sign the new regulations at his Florida Summit on Global Climate Change set for Thursday and Friday in Miami, where California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and environmental activists Robert Kennedy Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt IV are featured speakers.