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Political Climate Change

The federal government may be dragging their feet on the issue of global warming, but several individual states aren’t waiting around. States in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West have recently passed aggressive legislation to fight climate change.

The newest state to join the fight—and perhaps most surprising—is Florida, which now has the most progressive stance in the country on coal-fired power plants, the single greatest contributor of carbon dioxide in the U.S.

Florida’s new governor, Republican Charlie Crist, has targeted an 80 percent reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He also has established ordering landmark standards for fuel efficiency and has called for 20% of the state’s power to come from renewables by 2020. Most notably, though, is the governor’s speaking publicly and enthusiastically against coal-fired power plants.

“The governor has presented a very aggressive policy that took everyone by surprise,” says David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice. “He has made it very clear that he doesn’t like coal.”

The new executive directive against coal in Florida has already stopped at least one coal-fired power plant. Florida Light and Power, one of the nation’s largest energy providers, proposed an enormous coal-burning power facility on the edge of the Everglades National Park. The plant, which would have produced 16 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, was denied by the Florida Utilities Commission. Shortly after, several other coal-fired plant proposals were either denied or withdrawn. Florida Power and Light has now turned its attention to developing the country’s largest geothermal power plant—which uses the earth’s heat to produce energy.

“We had a covey of coal victories in a matter of six months,” Guest says. “Right now, there aren’t any new coal-fired power plants in the works for Florida. The political climate in the state has changed drastically in regards to coal.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with other states in the region. The majority of Southeastern states are still showing an outdated commitment to coal-fired power. While North Carolina passed an aggressive global warming act in 2005, Duke Power’s new 800-megawatt Cliffside plant was recently awarded a permit by the utilities commission. Georgia’s delegation still isn’t convinced global warming is an issue with scientific merit, and the remainder of the South can’t seem to move past the “conversation phase” into actual action.

“Several states in the Southeast are heavily dependent on coal-fired power and seem to still be committed to that form of energy,” says Jennifer Rennicks, the federal policy coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “We hope that Florida’s accomplishments are a sign of a transition to more renewable energy region-wide.”

But Rennicks admits that even if other Southeastern states join Florida in seeking an aggressive global warming initiative, the movement ultimately must be adopted by the federal government.

“Water, air, and global warming all cross state lines,”Rennick says. “We need a federal mandate before we see any true progress with global warming.”

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