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p>It’s no accident that Florida is one of the most economically successful states in the nation. The state has a 3.9 percent unemployment rate, and taxes have fallen for eight consecutive years. A business-friendly climate is spurring job growth and new investments—and Floridians are reaping the rewards. But if Gov. Charlie Crist gets his way with new climate change policies, that success may not last.
The governor’s new executive orders call for costly new limits on carbon emissions—and thus, on most forms on energy in the state. Florida’s utility companies must trim their carbon output back to levels not seen in 17 years and automobile emissions must be cut 22 percent over the next five years (pending federal approval). Power companies will have to generate 20 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, with a particular emphasis on wind and solar energy. The governor also created a climate change team to develop an action plan that will look at even more sweeping measures, including a cap-and-trade system that would ration the use of carbon-based energy.
But economic growth—especially at the level that Florida is currently enjoying—doesn’t flourish under such conditions. Clamping down on emissions means clamping down on energy use, especially given the current state of technology and higher costs associated with alternative energy from sources such as wind and solar power.
Energy use goes hand in hand with population and economic growth, and it’s easy to see why: The bigger an economy, the more energy it needs. By placing artificial limits on the energy the state is allowed to use, Crist’s plan would erect a massive blockade on the road to economic growth, no matter what the rhetoric to the contrary. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts Florida’s population will increase by almost 80 percent by the year 2030, for a total of over 28 million. Yet Crist is calling for a return to 1990 emissions levels in a similar time frame—emissions that were associated with a much smaller economy and a total state population of roughly 13 million.
Higher energy prices don’t just mean a few extra pennies at the pump—although gas prices will shoot upward—they mean a higher cost of living across the board. Food and perishable items will cost more to ship. With higher utility prices, stores will have to pay more to keep the lights on. Hotels will pay more to air-condition tourists. Raising energy costs introduces a ripple effect throughout the economy that will be felt by all Floridians.
Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with many Florida taxpayers. My organization, FreedomWorks, has thousands of members in Florida, each of them dedicated to the principles of smaller government. These are conservative, free-market advocates—some of whom helped out on Crist’s campaign—who don’t want to see their cost of living pushed further upwards in the name of a fashionable liberal policy.
The comments left on our website by the petition-signers say it all: “I didn't vote for you to be politically correct, or to raise my taxes under the guise of being green,” writes one. “Your job is to represent the people, not to regulate them,” writes another. A third sounds a common plea, writing, “Governor Crist: Please don't do anything to increase our cost of living, because we simply cannot afford it.”
As Barney Bishop, president of the Associated Industries of Florida, warned the Pensacola News Journal, the governor should expect some “pushback.” “People are going to be reluctant to pay more for their energy,” he said—especially if it has no tangible result other than raising the costs for Florida’s families.
For even if the entire United States were to adopt aggressive greenhouse gas reduction policies, the effect on global climate change would be negligible, slowing the rate of warming by a mere .07 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years. The impact from a single state would be even smaller. Crist’s orders, given without a vote from the legislature, would inflict significant economic pain but produce no measurable environmental benefit.
Like all Americans, Floridians are rightly protective of the real environmental progress we have made in the last 50 years. But continued improvements are dependant on sustained economic prosperity. Floridians need to remind the governor of that simple fact. Affordable energy is needed to power the state’s economy -- businesses, homes, schools, and hospitals. Unfortunately, Governor Crist is compromising the economic future of his citizens for a feel-good publicity stunt.