by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
December 21, 2007
E.P.A. RULES SPARK EMERGENCE OF 'NEW BREED' OF G.O.P. GOVERNORS
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 20, 2007 -- Florida's popular Republican Governor Charlie Crist took a day off to go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for kingfish recently, and he won a rare accolade from the St. Petersburg Times outdoor editor, Terry Tomalin, who tagged along. Crist, Tomalin said, is "Not left, not right, but a new breed, for a new time."
It took a sportswriter for one of the best papers in America to put his finger on it. Crist is not the same old GOP type the state has had to live with for so long.
Floridians loved Gov. Jeb Bush, the Presiden't brother, for the measure of humanity he displayed during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane season, but they were under no illusion that Bush was anything but a political clone of his brother when it came to the environment, health care, education and economic policy, and his long love affair with the state's construction industry was no secret.
Together, Jeb and the builders stimulated a massive wave of over-development that in the midst of the subprime crisis has has now crippled its construction industry, many of its banks, and all of its contractors, carpenters, plumbers, framers, roofers and air-conditioning guys, stranding hundreds of thousands of them in the unemployment lines.
But while Charlie Crist is a product of the same Republican machine that elected Jeb Bush, he is not the same kind of governor.
And like his New Breed counterpart in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Crist is mad as hell at the Environmental Protection Agency for rejecting California's - and by extension, those of Florida and 15 other states - tougher limits on automobile greenhouse gas emissions in favor of the Republican-brokered limits the EPA wants to impose. The agency ruled on Wednesday that states could not set their own greenhouse gas emission rules.
California had asked automakers to curb emissions by requiring that cars get 36 miles per gallon by 2016, as opposed to the federal government's demand for just 35 m.p.g. by 2020. The difference, while it seems small, amounts to tens of millions of tons of pollution - and about 18 percent of California's state-mandated decrease in such emissions of 173 million tons by 2020..
Like Schwarzenegger, Crist, too, will probably sue the E.P.A. for the right to protect his state - again, like California, one of the most beautiful and environmentally sensitive in the nation - from the erosive effects of tons of carbon dioxide and other emissions from automobiles that have heated Earth's atmosphere over the past century, with some profound effects. The states have been operating according to their own standards for years under a waiver that until now has been granted routinely by the EPA.
Now that Congress has set a new standard - one heavily influenced by Detroit - no more waivers are being granted. The industry fought the 35 m.p.g.-by-2020 rules, but feels they can live with the new law; while they say they fear the tougher standards proposed by 17 states. Florida officials wanted to cut 34 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2015; California's rules would have cut emissions by 31 million tons by 2020.
In what can only be called an extraordinary turnabout with deep grassroots support, the two governors are forcing the rest of the party to look more deeply at issues like global warming. They have co-chaired a conference on the topic last summer that brought thousands of experts and activists to Miami - and have struck out on their own against the automobile industry lobbyists, developers and others who are often mainstay Republican contributors.
Crist singlehandedly rescued the endangered manatee - the cow-like aquatic mamal that is the inspiration for one Florida Gulf Coast county's name - from his own appointees to the state Fish & Game Commission, all of whom had string ties to the development industry. Republican boaters have railed against rules that require them to slow their boats in waters inhabited by the manatee, which has been killed in increasing numbers as boat speeds rise.
This year, his first in office, Crist has also helped to stop construction of coal-powered utility plants near Gainesville and Tallahassee, and the July 12-13 global climate change summit saw him rubbing shoulders with and climate scientists and activists like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and he comitted the state to lower greenhouses gas emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, but federal officials largely boycotted the event. He's aware that warming waters could eventually drown his low-lying state, and saysthat its economy can grow by attracting innovative anti-pollution industries whose new technologies may prevent it.
It's enough to give a Democrat the willies.
Crist called the EPA decision "disappointing," and a spokesman for the state's Dept. of Environmental Protection was quick to point out that its proposed rules on greenhouse gas emissions by diesel and power plants were unaffected. But the decision - apparently made by the White House, according to news reports, although EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told the New York Times it was "his alone," according to - puts both Republican governors on a collision course not only with the Bush Administration but many in their own party, including some of its presidential candidates.
On a political level, the moves by Crist and Schwarzenegger, representing what is a genuine desire to stave off the worst effects of global warming and a strong acknowledgement of its reality, undercuts the Democrats' long dominance of the global warming debate and invites the more progressive of Republicans to the center of the party and pairs them there with two of America's most able and popular politicians.
In doing so, these two tolerant, sophisticated and open-minded leaders offer a clear alternative to the backward-looking rhetoricians of the right, and a hope that the center of both parties will be strengthened by moderates who put common sense ahead of ideology, religion and the failed, divisive policies of the past.
AR Correspondent Joe Shea is based in Bradenton, Fla. Disclosure: He contributes to all Democratic and a few Republican presidential candidates. Write him at email@example.com.