Gov. says climate not political issue

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger brought his star power and California’s vanguard environmental policies Friday to a climate conference, at which Florida joined the ranks of U.S. states and cities committed to fighting global warming.

The two-day meeting here, hosted by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, reinforced a growing public and corporate determination to confront the climate change that threatens Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline and $7-billion-a-year outdoor recreation industry.

Crist signed executive orders requiring Florida to adopt the same tough pollution controls California has. The aim is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2025, require 20% of state power to come from renewable sources, and compel civil servants to use fuel-efficient vehicles and “green” offices.


But it was Schwarzenegger who stole the limelight Friday, taking swipes at what he called the Bush administration’s neglect of environmental issues and at Detroit automakers for fighting tougher fuel-efficiency standards.

“I’m very proud to see another governor joining California and the growing number of states not looking to Washington for leadership anymore,” Schwarzenegger told the gathering of 950 corporate, environmental and community leaders, to thunderous applause.

With 34 states and 600 cities now on board with his plan to halt global warming, Schwarzenegger said, the United States was approaching the “tipping point” -- when the federal government and industries would recognize the folly of ignoring this century’s greatest challenge.

“We cannot expect rapidly growing countries like China and India to protect the environment when the United States is not showing leadership,” he said.

Environment ministers from Germany and Britain, who took part in the conference, praised Crist and Schwarzenegger for helping Americans recognize their global responsibilities. Since the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocols of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change in 2001, relations with European allies on environment issues have been strained.

Schwarzenegger said his anti-pollution actions, the toughest in the nation, were proof that Republicans could be responsible stewards of the environment. But he insisted there was no partisan divide on the climate issue.

“There is no Democratic planet Earth. There is no Republican planet Earth. There’s just a planet Earth, and we all have a responsibility to take care of it,” he said.

He told Floridians that their embrace of his policies probably would spur resistance in some circles, such as the automobile lobby that has been fighting California’s fuel-efficiency requirements in court.

Schwarzenegger also has been doing battle with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has withheld permission for California to implement requirements passed last year to reduce harmful emissions by 25% from cars and 18% from SUVs by the 2009 model year.

A billboard along a Michigan highway reads “Arnold -- Drop Dead,” a reference to the $85 billion U.S. automakers claim Schwarzenegger’s emissions policies will cost them, the governor said.

Crist, who said he would join California in suing the EPA if necessary, noted that there were 16.5 million vehicles sold in Florida last year -- a powerful incentive for U.S. automakers to meet the state’s demands.

Florida’s Republican governor cited a growing consensus among business and conservation leaders in the state.

Sugar cane and citrus farmers are eager to convert their agricultural waste to ethanol, he said, and utility companies especially “really seem to be getting” that there is a need to reduce fossil-fuel use.

Crist said in an interview that he recently switched to a hybrid car and planned to have solar panels installed on the roof of the governor’s mansion next week.

Among the corporate officers at the conference was C. Douglas McMillon, chief executive of Sam’s Club, who said parent company Wal-Mart was two years into a restructuring to reach a zero-waste goal, make existing stores 20% more energy-efficient and cut energy use by 30% at new sites.

Publix, the supermarket chain, has cut electricity costs by 7% -- saving enough energy to power 44,000 homes for a year, company President Ed Crenshaw said.

“There’s a very happy confluence going on” between business and environmental groups, said Vinod Khosla, whose Khosla Ventures is working with the Sierra Club to make environmentally sound production beneficial to companies’ bottom lines.

“The future is bright. We can create jobs,” said environmental activist Theodore Roosevelt IV, great-grandson of the former president whose guiding principle was often invoked at the conference: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”