Florida Guv, a Fair-Weather Friend of Rail, Backs Out of Climate Fight

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), facing a challenge from the right as he stumps for a U.S. Senate seat, is shedding his already shaky environmental credibility as fast as he can.

Charlie_Crist_cropped.jpgFlorida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) (Photo: Sun-Sentinel)

Crist’s administration is scrapping efforts to combat climate change and won’t be joining a regional carbon cap-and-trade partnership organized by several northeastern states, according to documents released today by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In a sense, Crist’s shift from green crusader to climate action slow-walker was previewed by his handling of Florida’s popular but cash-strapped Tri-Rail commuter network.

Tri-Rail has long sought a dedicated funding source to continue its expansion, most likely through a $2 per day tax on rental cars that would also help fund a SunRail commuter system in the Orlando area.

Crist waxed positive about SunRail, but local media reports showed him balking on the rental-car tax — which died earlier this year in the state senate.

Two local advocacy groups, Safety As Floridians Expect and Citizens for Improved Transit, are working on reviving the tax, but it’s hard to see Crist supporting direct funding for Tri-Rail even as he backs away from climate change as a broader issue.

Meanwhile, Crist’s choice to warm the Florida Senate seat until the 2010 election faces a similar dilemma of his own. George LeMieux, a longtime Crist counselor, will head to Washington this month with a decent record of environmental stewardship but a heap of pressure to reverse his position.

Just listen to LeMieux talk longingly about the potential of a statewide Florida rail system in May:

“Imagine, if you will, if you wanted to go to Miami to a Heat game or
do business or go to court, that you could get on a train right here and
go to downtown Miami, or if you wanted to go to [shopping malls] in
West Palm,” LeMieux said. “Central Florida was in many ways the kind of
precursor for [what many want] to do in South Florida.”

“It really could change the way we live and work,” he said.
Ultimately – “this is really dreaming” – a North-South railroad could
lead to east-west spurs along Interstate 595, plus northern Broward and
two or three in Miami-Dade County.

“One can dream. That would be a much better way of us getting around
in South Florida than all of us getting on 95 or the turnpike,” he said.

Late Update: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has just released a statement calling PEER’s information [PDF] — obtained through Maryland’s environment department — "inaccurate." While declining to commit to action on a state cap-and-trade climate rule in the forthcoming legislative session, Florida DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole said that no decision has been made.

From Sole’s statement:

It
is unfortunate that a quote was taken out of context and distributed by the
State of Maryland as an “official” announcement of Florida’s
intentions.

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.  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. 

DEP is actively following the federal debate and assessing
its potential impacts on Florida. Florida’s cap-and-trade rulemaking will
continue its work with stakeholders and identify policy initiatives that
Florida may wish to advocate for at the state and national level.

It is important to note, that no final decisions on
recommendations have been made. All policy options are still under
consideration including the decision of whether to join a regional initiative
either as a member or an observer. However, the decision of whether to join a regional
initiative, such as RGGI [the northeastern states’ group], will ultimately rest with the Florida
Legislature.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Florida Gov. Scott Finds a Rail Project He Doesn’t Hate

|
Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad has announced that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration will support the development of SunRail commuter rail. Acknowledging the strong support of Florida Republican John Mica, chair of the House Transportation Committee, Prasad said that his recent conversations with citizens and stakeholders convinced him that the project was worthwhile and that the […]

Will Florida’s Next Governor Sink the State’s Chances for Rail?

|
We’re keeping the news coming on the governor’s races we’re following most closely. Check out our previous coverage of Wisconsin, Ohio, California, Texas, Maryland, Colorado, and Tennessee. This one could be the most important yet. The most high-profile election in Florida is the three-ring circus of a Senate race, with Republican-turned-Independent Charlie Crist trailing badly […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Voters told pollsters that "jobs and the economy" were their No. 1 concerns this year, which is keeping discussion of a new infrastructure spending package very much alive in Washington (Bloomberg) What’s the real lesson of this past Election Day? That ballot measures for transportation investment do well (Morning News) Blumenauer introduces a bill that […]

Four Finalists For White House High-Speed Rail Funding?

|
That was the eyebrow-raising suggestion reported by the Orlando Sentinel today after Rep. John Mica (R-FL) helped mark the beginning of central Florida’s commuter-rail era, made possible by landmark legislation signed into state law this week. Rep. John Mica (FL), senior Republican on the House transportation committee (Photo: Orlando Sentinel) The Sentinel quoted Mica naming […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Note to conservatives: You should be fans of passenger rail! (Am. Thinker) Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s transportation record becomes fodder for his foes (Politico) Are federal stimulus dollars working for minority contractors in Illinois? (CPR) D.C.’s real-time government data-sharing wins a Harvard award … (WaPo) … but does Harvard know about the city’s grim record […]