Hubris, not carbon emissions, spurs bold climate change

Until last week’s midterm elections, environmentalists needed the Hubble Telescope to see a brighter day.

In Florida, it may be too soon yet to even imagine change as rapid.

But the politically unexpected has happened in Florida, too.

When Democrats organized to imagine a power shift in Congress, it was on the order of a generation from today, not tomorrow.

Soon after tomorrow, Charlie Crist will be governor of Florida.

In Washington, a divided House and Senate seemed the best to hope for. Control of the Senate? Unimaginable.

While state party leaders are planning a celebration of continuity, it will be Crist who sends off Jeb Bush with a hug and a wave home to Calle Ocho in Miami, where Republicans will spend two years gnashing over what could-have-been.

While 2008 is a lifetime away, this political elite is unlikely to stray from the Karl Rove playbook that worked better here than America at large.

On the environment, it was difficult to envision progress independent of a natural disaster like climate change. But it was the disasters of hubris and incompetence, not carbon emissions, that set the new stage.

Gov.-elect Crist could stay the course with message-framing, command of electioneering and the massive advantages of campaign fundraising from production home building and related commercial development in environmentally fragile lands subject to state regulation.

Or he could choose another course: to adapt.

Today, Democrats will press the White House on not just Iraq, but all the issues and programs that war has pushed aside — which may have been the point in the first place.

But if the president is to be taken at his word — and he should be, because the next two years will seal his legacy — movement on key environmental issues such as energy independence and climate change are a real possibility.

That was not possible so long as U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo of California was chair of the House Resources Committee and Sen. James Inhofe was chair of the Environment Committee.

No one knows how swift, or in what sequence, changes may come to policies that have been stifled, shunted aside, in the broadest attack on environmental regulation in more than three decades.

For Florida’s environment, change has been steered by the beneficiaries of Florida’s building boom, putting terrible pressure on regulations and natural resources that in many cases, like the Everglades, were long ago wilting and tilting toward collapse.

Big real-estate developers were at the forefront of Florida’s ballot initiatives, like Amendment 3, that put more distance between people and their government.

But if the midterm elections say anything to power, it is that the voice of the people counts.

President Bush must rein back ideologues in the lower reaches of federal agencies charged with protecting the environment and public health.

In the past six years, agency bureaucrats with deep connections to industry lobbyists have radically altered the mission of the federal government with respect to environmental protection.

In Florida, Crist will have the ability to change the tenor and atmosphere in state agencies that favor insider dealing on land development and a reliance on policy outcomes that make an orphan of sound science.

Bold leadership to make Florida energy independent could follow the path set by California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Crist can make that happen by decisively setting forth investment priorities and a mission that does not hesitate or equivocate.

Further opportunity rests with gubernatorial appointments to key environmental positions in his administration — like the head of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, responsible for growth management, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health, the Public Service Commission, the Environmental Regulatory Commission and, last but not least, the governing boards of the state’s water-management districts.

Reaching to bring in new voices — even from the other side of the aisle — would signal that divisiveness enforced by ideological rigidity in service of predetermined outcomes is no longer order of the day in America, or in Florida.

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