Even though 2014 has just begun, we’re looking down the road to the upcoming November elections. There will be many important contests this year, but there is no race that has more potential impact on climate and clean energy policy than the 2014 Florida gubernatorial election. In the limited space we have here, we will spotlight the leading contenders from the two major parties, Rick Scott (R), and Charlie Crist (D) to see where they stand on these issues.
The Stakes are High
Why focus on this race? As the nation’s fourth most populous state (soon to become the third most populous, surpassing New York), Florida is the largest electricity market in the United States that does not have coherent energy policy. Florida’s actions on clean energy and climate can and will impact the climate debate in our country and potentially international policy. The state also has a lot to lose from inaction on the issue: the impact of sea level rise and increasingly powerful storm surges threaten millions of Floridians who live in low-lying areas, not to mention the effect on the state’s two biggest industries, tourism and agriculture.
Floridians have the opportunity to send a very clear and powerful message, not only to Tallahassee, but to the country and world. There is an urgent need to address climate issues and unlock our country’s largest untapped renewable energy market.
Governor Rick Scott
Current Governor Rick Scott has either ignored or taken actions that undermine the issue of climate change throughout his time in office. These actions include his signing of a bill eliminating Florida’s Climate Protection Act from state statute – the law designed to meet former governor Charlie Crist’s statewide greenhouse gas pollution reduction targets. There is no mention of climate or energy on his website. Scott also allowed the legislature to dissolve the state’s Energy and Climate Commission, and move the governor’s state energy office to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Initially, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam showed promise on clean energy issues, but recently doesn’t seem willing to stand up to the state’s big power companies. In the end, he has done little to promote conservation and strong renewable energy policies.
The Florida governor appoints the commissioners to the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) in consultation with the state legislature. Under Scott, the state’s biggest power companies have been allowed by the PSC to continue weak energy efficiency performance - by eroding conservation goals set in 2009. His Commissioners threw out efficiency programs for FPL and Duke intended to meet the improved conservation goals – so half the state’s customers are still being offered ten year old efficiency programs.
During Scott’s tenure, the utilities in the state have exerted a powerful influence over state legislators and the state’s PSC. Florida Power & Light has already donated $1.5 million and Duke/Progress $800,000 to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee (while raising rates for Florida consumers). The fact that Scott appoints the Public Service Commissioners that are tasked with regulating the big power companies raises serious questions about whether this regulatory body is willing to perform any real independent oversight in the public interest.
The state has continued to buck any effort to adopt any meaningful renewable energy policy. Under Scott, Florida has fallen to 18th in the nation in terms of new solar capacity, according to the most recent report of the Solar Energy Industries association. Florida could be a leader in solar development with its abundant solar potential.
Given the uproar from consumers, Governor Scott did sign into law SB 1472, which modestly amends the 2006 law allowing power companies to shift the cost and risk of constructing new nuclear reactors from shareholders to customers.
Scott’s overall failure to take action on climate and energy issues can likely be attributed to the fact that he does not accept the science regarding anthropogenic climate change, and denies the existence of global warming outright.
Challenger Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist, the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, previously served as governor from 2007-2011. He made clean energy a hallmark of his administration. As Governor, he held two high profile climate summits in Miami in 2007 and 2008 that featured then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Crist signed three Executive Orders on Climate and Clean Energy and led his agencies in implementing a host of policies from improving building codes to setting up an Action Team on Climate and Energy that delivered 50 recommendations, including directing the Department of Environmental Protection to develop rules on cap and trade.
As Attorney General from 2003-2007, Crist developed a reputation as a consumer advocate when it came to dealing with the state’s utilities. He often clashed with FPL over electric rates, so much so that they spent $225,000 trying to defeat him in his primary election. It was reported in the press at the time of his first run for governor that FPL was considering spending $1 million in the general election to defeat him.
Already in the 2014 campaign, Crist has made an issue of climate change and clean energy within the state. His campaign website touts his record on clean energy issues and he has raised these topics in a number of public appearances since filing for election on November 1st. He has advocated for promoting renewable energy, particularly development of the state’s underperforming solar industry, as a way to boost the state’s economy.
The Race to Come
In the months ahead, it will be critical for Floridians to pay attention and get involved in this race. We must press the gubernatorial candidates to clearly lay out plans that address climate change. We must open Florida to the economic development opportunity of a robust clean energy market and stop squelching the jobs that will come from the expansion of a clean energy economy in the state.
Ask the candidates, ‘what’s your plan, governor?’
What’s your plan to address climate change? What’s your plan to unlock jobs in clean energy?
Governor what’s your plan to make the Sunshine state a leader in solar energy?
Candidates have been busy raising money and making public appearances; it’s time for voters to get busy demanding accountability on climate change and clean energy solutions.
Please note: SACE does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.
Tags: 2014 election, Charlie Crist, Clean Energy, clean tech, climate change, climate policy, Duke Energy, election, Florida, Florida Govenor, florida power and light, Florida Public Service Commission, FPL, global warming, Renewable Energy, Rick Scott, sea level rise, solar, utility regulation
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