TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate gave final approval to a massive energy bill Wednesday, bringing new energy efficient building codes, renewable fuel standards and a host of other initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce the state’s dependence on foreign oil.
The bill, which was approved by the House Tuesday, passed on a 39-1 vote. It now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist, who has indicated he will sign it.
While the bill has its shortcomings and could be stronger, it puts Florida at the forefront of the nation’s climate change movement, its sponsors said.
”These are major steps forward . . . and something you can all be proud of,” said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs. Constantine referenced several concerns of local government, saying certain measures may need to be revisited, such as a prohibition against regulating plastic bags.
The Senate adopted the House version of legislation, which contained several new measures, including a requirement the Legislature approve any plans by a state agency to adopt California’s stringent auto emission standards.
Critics of the measure, including some environmental groups, said waiting for ratification would slow Florida’s efforts to aggressively curb greenhouse gas emissions, as mandated in executive orders signed by Crist at a climate change summit last summer in Miami Beach. Crist called on the state to adopt California’s standards, which require a 30 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2016.
”This really weakens what we were attempting to do in our legislation,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise.
Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, the Senate bill’s sponsor, countered the measure was not “the end of the story in terms of vehicle emissions.”
”This is an issue the Legislature will be debating down the road,” Saunders said.
The amendment was one of the final touches to the roughly 200-page omnibus bill, which brings to Florida everything from telecommuting by state employees to energy efficient building codes. It contains several compromise measures that businesses, consumer advocates and environmentalists said they could accept in order to further a mutual goal of protecting the environment by reducing the use of fossil fuels in Florida.
Utilities will be able to more easily recover costs from rate payers for making efficiency upgrades, building nuclear transmission lines and plants and investing in renewable fuel sources.
The Legislature, rather than state agencies, will get to approve climate change goals that lead to rate hikes. Environmentalists will see the implementation of several aggressive goals — including a renewable portfolio standard for utilities and a cap-and-trade program leading to reduced carbon pollution.