Florida Panel Delays Vote On Auto Emission Standards

Bowing to the auto industry and other business interests, a state panel Wednesday delayed a vote on adopting California's tough standards for car and light truck emissions.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Bowing to the auto industry and other business interests, a state panel Wednesday delayed a vote on adopting California's tough standards for car and light truck emissions.

It was a setback for Gov. Charlie Crist, environmentalists and others who support the California standards to cut greenhouse gases, which have been blamed for causing global warming.

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

Only two of the seven Environmental Regulation Commission members voiced outright support for the California rules. Others were unsure or said they first want to see if the federal government sets stricter fuel mileage requirements -- possibly in the next two or three weeks. They postponed a vote until their Dec. 2 meeting.

That's a day before the Public Service Commission resumes consideration of another major part of Crist's efforts to reverse climate change. The panel last week delayed a vote after its staff recommended greenhouse gas standards that critics say would be the nation's weakest for power companies instead of stronger ones favored by Crist.

"Delay is the enemy," said Florida Audubon's Eric Draper, who agrees with Crist on both rules. "We need to act now."

Manufacturers oppose the California auto emission standards, arguing they will increase car prices and make certain light truck models scarce in Florida.

Industry representatives also told commissioners Florida would cede authority to California for little gain because the proposed federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards would cut greenhouse gases nearly as much.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole disputed that. He said Florida could opt out if the commission disagrees with changes California makes in the rules. Although California vehicles will cost more, Floridians would save in the long run because of better gas mileage and cleaner air, Sole said.

"This rule represents an aggressive but an achievable method to help Florida on its path to reduce greenhouse gases," he said. "The auto industry has represented a lot of information. Admittedly, they've caused confusion. They have done that intentionally."

Even if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopts the new fuel mileage standards before the commission's Dec. 2 meeting, they likely won't take effect immediately because of court challenges, Sole said.

The California standards also won't go into effect for at least two years. That's because they would need approval next year from the Legislature, and the industry would need time to comply.

Another roadblock is the Environmental Protection Agency's refusal 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 will soon be a moot point, said Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club. He said both major presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, have promised to grant the waiver.

Supporters also disputed claims the standards would result in a shortage of certain light trucks, but the industry's argument resonated with builders, business representatives and boaters who rely on the vehicles.

"A Prius just isn't going to sell in Lake Wales," said Bonnie Basham, a lobbyist for the Florida Airboat Association, who urged the commission to delay its vote.

More in Operations