Harrisburg, PA -- Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has gone further than any state executive to date in making a clean energy future his priority. As part of a budget showdown with the legislature, Rendell refused to approve a proposal from the state Senate that omitted crucial funding for renewable energy, even though the result was the temporary shut-down of non-essential state services. Republicans in the state Senate opposed Rendell's proposal to fund renewable energy and efficiency with a $5 per year surcharge on households and businesses. Polls showed that the proposal was popular with the public; the state's analysis showed it would make economic sense. But members of the state Senate, responding to a lobbying blitz by the utilities and state chamber of commerce, insisted it was a tax and refused to include it.
After a one-day shutdown, legislators gave in to Rendell on the other remaining items in dispute, including a major increase in funding for mass transit and a bill to boost solar energy. With the renewable/efficiency funding package in dispute, Rendell signed the budget and ended the shutdown, promising to bring the legislature back in September for a special session to consider renewable energy funding. Rumours in Harrisburg were that opponents of the surcharge had agreed to $60 million a year in funding, but not to a specific mechanism.
It's a little hard to know how to react to this news. Two years ago it would have been inconceivable that the governor of a big industrial state would go to the mat like this for clean energy; on the other hand, only a few weeks ago it looked like Rendell would prevail. So this may be a case of 'two steps forward, one step back,' revealing that even when common sense, political leadership, and public opinion want government to move us forward into a new energy future, the politics of minority obstruction can still gum up the works, or at least slow them down. The fall special legislation session in Pennsylvania provides an opportunity to focus on energy efficiency and renewables, without the distractions of all the other issues tied into budget discussions.
If the news is mixed in Pennsylvania, the picture in Florida is blessedly straightforward. My smile brightened when I learned that Governor Charles Crist will sign his state up as the latest leader in the fight against global warming. I'm flying to Miami tomorrow to Crist's Climate Summit; the Miami Herald has learned that on Friday -- Day 2 of the Summit -- Crist will sign an Executive Order adopting California's clean car standards for Florida, and committing the Sunshine State to an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As Susie Caplowe of our Florida Chapter put it, "I'm ecstatic, he's really taking it seriously." As well Crist should; in the face of rising sea levels, Florida stands to lose more of its acreage than any other state.