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Florida Takes On Global Warming

I just finished a year-long appointment on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change. We released a blueprint that, if put into action, would make Florida one of America's most aggressive states in tackling climate change.

We studied the gamut: alternative energy sources, vehicle emissions, landfill gases, forestry practices, building construction, electricity demand you name it.

The result is an ambitious set of reforms which we believe would cut Florida's greenhouse gasses 34 percent by 2025.

The reforms would also cut energy costs by $28-billion from 2009 to 2025. Florida would save an estimated 53.5 billion gallons of petroleum, 200.2 million short tons of coal, and 6.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas if state leaders implement our plan.

Gov. Crist showed leadership last year when he signed an executive order requiring the state to lower greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. He then appointed the climate team.

Our plan would exceed Crist's initial goal, and make Florida a real leader in conservation and alternative technologies. Here's a look at a few of our major recommendations:

Florida should get 20 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources—wind, solar, hydropower, or biomass—by 2020. This one change, which we call "20 by 20" would have big results, reducing greenhouse gases by 17-million metric tons by 2017.

"Investment in renewables in the state is an essential step," our team chairman Michael Sole, secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, told the Jacksonville Times-Union. "It would be almost a $9.2 billion savings. ... Instead of paying for fossil fuels that are imported from outside the state, we'd invest in renewable sources [inside Florida]."

Florida should tackle air pollution by capping emissions and using incentives to encourage businesses to run cleaner operations. As in other cap-and-trade programs around the world, polluters that exceed the emissions cap would have to buy credits from cleaner businesses that cut their emissions below the cap.

To start, Florida should become an "observer" member of two regional cap-and-trade systems, one that involves 10 Northeastern states, the other made up of Western states and Canadian provinces. Florida would study both before deciding whether to become a full member.

Florida should get serious about energy efficiency both in homes and in businesses. Our efficiency recommendations, we estimate, would cut greenhouse gases by 13-million metric tons by 2017. Changing building codes to require better energy efficiency would cut an additional 3.4-million metric tons.

Florida should plant more tree cover. Reforestation and urban tree planting programs could cut greenhouse gases by an additional 10.7-million metric tons, our team estimated.

With the economy down, we realize that our groundbreaking recommendations may hit political walls. We were careful to include a special caveat for the times in our report:

“The Action Team completes its charge during a time of economic uncertainty,” our report says. “While it may be assumed by some readers that the current economic environment would hamper Florida's progress toward a low-carbon economy, the Action Team firmly believes that the current economic conditions precisely sharpen the "call to action" first issued by Gov. Crist in 2007.

“Now is the time for strategic investment in Florida's low-carbon energy infrastructure if we are to be successful in diversifying the state's economy, creating new job opportunities, and positioning Florida's "green tech" sector as an economic engine for growth.”