Florida Panel Approves Auto Emissions Limits

Tough auto emissions standards cleared a hurdle when a Florida commission gave its approval to rules fiercely opposed by the car industry but praised by environmentalists.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Tough auto emissions standards backed by Gov. Charlie Crist cleared a hurdle when a Florida commission gave its approval to rules fiercely opposed by car industry lobbyists but praised by environmentalists as a way to fight global warming.

The Environmental Regulation Commission voted 6-1 on Tuesday to adopt California's emissions rules as a way of lowering greenhouse gases, which many scientists blame for global warming. It would force auto makers to sell more fuel-efficient cars in Florida, which they say will drive up prices and limit availability.

The rules now go before the Legislature.

"It's my hope that the legislators ignore the car lobbyists and recognize that consumers want clean cars and will recognize that this rule is the only way to compel Detroit to sell the kind of cars that people will buy and that will protect the environment," said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida.

The auto industry argued against the rules at Tuesday's hearing.

"We the car dealers believe the consumer is the most important thing in this whole debate. No one is answering the question of cost. No one is answering the question of what vehicles will be available. We're concerned about all of those for the consumer," said Ted Smith of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.

But state Environmental Secretary Michael Sole said that any increase in the cost of vehicles will be paid for in two to three years in the amount of gasoline saved. After that, auto owners would be saving money. He also believes manufacturers will meet consumer demands for the types of vehicles they want.

"The auto industry has done very well every time state government and the federal government say 'Here's the bar we need you to get to.' They'll get there," Sole said. "I'm confident that the average Florida consumer is going to get the diversity in models and brands that they generally see today."

A dozen other states besides California already have adopted tougher standards, including Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York. Colorado and Arizona also have begun the adoption process.

But the Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to grant a federal rule waiver that states need to put the California greenhouse gas standards into effect.

The EPA decision is being challenged in court but could soon be a moot point if President-elect Barack Obama supports a waiver.

More in Operations