Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Committee drops new emissions proposal

Committee drops new emissions proposal

Morris News Service
Publication Date: 02/17/09

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Charlie Crist's push for tougher auto emissions standards hit a speed bump Monday as a legislative committee unanimously found the proposed rule unconstitutional.

The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee voted 5-0 to accept a staff report finding the rule unconstitutional and send the opinion to the committees that would take up the proposal in the session that begins March 3.

While the action does not kill the rule, the bipartisan vote shows the difficulty Crist faces in pushing the standard through the Legislature.

Crist signed an executive order calling for the state to adopt the California rule at a global-warming conference in 2007. Lawmakers say their part of the job is more difficult.

"I think there's a difference between sending a message and then actual application," said Rep. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

The vote comes after several members of a key House committee voiced skepticism last month about the threat of man-made global warming, the main reason for the emissions proposal.

The governor's office suggested he was undeterred.

"Governor Crist looks forward to working the Legislature in the upcoming session to ratify this important rule," Press Secretary Sterling Ivey said in an e-mail.

Under federal law, each state must either follow the federal rules on automobile emissions or adopt California's more stringent standards. In its report to the committee, staff found that the rule inappropriately handed over authority to the head of the California Air Resources Board, allowing the board's executive director to change the rules in California and, by extension, in Florida.

"Those decisions are made to be made in the future by an administrator in another state who is not subject to or guided by the laws of Florida," said Suzanne Printy, an attorney for the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee.

Automobile manufacturers cheered the decision, hoping it would end the Florida debate over adopting the standards. Opponents argue that cars made to fit the California standards are more expensive and could add hundreds of dollars to the price for consumers.

Wade Hopping, a lobbyist for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the Legislature shouldn't even consider the rule if it violates the state's constitution.

"You ought to finish the job here and put a stake through the heart of this rule," he told the committee before the vote.

But state officials said there is no other option if the state wants to tackle greenhouse gases.

Even if the Legislature approves the rule, it wouldn't go into effect immediately. During the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected California's request for a waiver to implement its rule.

President Barack Obama has directed the agency to take another look at the proposal.

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