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Florida DEP says Legislature will get shot at state carbon plan

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Pressed by legislators, a state environmental official said Wednesday she doesn’t expect Florida to forward to federal officials a plan for reducing carbon dioxide emissions without getting approval by the Legislature.

President Barack Obama in 2014 issued his Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels. Industry groups and some states have opposed the proposed rules with Murray Energy Corp. filing a lawsuit to block the action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

HB 849 by state Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, would require the Legislature to approve any state implementation plan submitted by Florida to the federal agency. Wood is Florida co-chairman of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, whose opponents contend is a front-group for polluting industries.

During a meeting of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, Wood questioned Paula Cobb, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for regulatory programs, on whether the state could submit a plan without approval by the Legislature.

Cobb responded that there was uncertainty because the proposal is part of a little-used section of the federal Clean Air Act. She noted that the Public Service Commission also is involved in utility regulation.

She also said state law requires agencies to seek ratification by the Legislature of rules that cost businesses more than $1 million a year.

“I imagine there is going to be at a minimum ratification by the Legislature,” she said.

Wood, though, pressed for a commitment from the department and said the Legislature may need to take action without one.

“Do you see any scenario where you would not be collaborative with the Legislature and with the PSC?” Wood said. “This is very, very, very important public policy.

“I cannot see a scenario in which there will not be that collaboration,” Cobb said.

Aliya Haq of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Florida Politics that HB 849 is aligned with the American Legislative Exchange Council’s strategy to obstruct states from cutting carbon pollution under the Clean Power Plan.

“Polluters are using ALEC to push these misguided bills in order to protect themselves,” she said. “If this bill passes, it puts Florida at risk of losing control of its pollution reduction plan.”

Some Democratic representatives on the subcommittee suggested that more action was needed to produce clean energy and encourage conservation.

Democratic state Rep. Mike Hill of Pensacola Beach, though, said the state should not comply with the federal proposal, which he said was based on faulty data and the false premise that carbon emissions create global warming.

“Florida has the constitutional right and authority to not comply with these draconian measures from EPA,” he said.

Similarly, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and U. S. Senate majority leader, said Tuesday that states should reject the president’s mandate for clean power regulations, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

During the Florida House subcommittee meeting, Cobb said there will be debate and legal challenge surrounding the proposed rule. Earlier, she said failure to submit an implementation plan could lead to the EPA imposing its own plan on the state.

After the meeting, Wood said if the Governor’s Office, PSC, attorney general and agriculture commissioner, who oversees the state energy office, can agree on a collaborative process then his legislation won’t be necessary.

“But we’re not there yet,” Wood said. “We will continue to explore the option of the legislation.”

And Wood said the American Legislative Exchange Council had nothing to do with his bill, but he said the group represents a good source of public policy.

“They have been a leader in bringing information together about this federal initiative,” he said.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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