Florida turns down $320 million from feds to reduce tailpipe pollution

PSTA electric bus demo
Electric bus demonstration at PSTA. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (26 January 2016).

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue has turned down $320 million in federal money aimed at reducing tailpipe emissions, arguing federal transportation officials are overstepping their authority in the program.

Perdue on Nov. 13 notified U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg the state will not participate in the federal Carbon Reduction Program, a five-year, $6.4 billion effort focused on emissions that contribute to global warming.

The program was authorized in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 trillion federal law intended to rebuild and invest in the nation’s transportation system.

Perdue wrote that “nothing within the (law) explicitly allows for federally-induced mandates for states to track, or achieve a certain level, of reduced CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions.”

Perdue added the U.S. Department of Transportation had not published or provided guidance “on the process under which the secretary will certify state transportation emissions reductions.”

“Rather than support the continued politicization of our roadways, FDOT’s (the Florida Department of Transportation’s) time, money, and resources will be focused on building roads and bridges — not reducing carbon emissions,” Perdue wrote.

Days after Perdue’s letter to Buttigieg, the White House on Nov. 22 announced a finalized performance measure for state transportation agencies to track transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and set reduction targets. The performance measure does not impose penalties for missing targets.

“Every state has its own unique climate challenges, and every state ought to have the data, funding and flexibility it needs to meet those challenges head on,” Buttigieg said in Nov. 22 statement.

The program is part of $27 billion in the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act intended for carbon-reduction projects.

Ali DySard, senior policy specialist at the Environmental Defense Fund’s Florida Office, expressed disappointment in Perdue’s decision.

“This decision denies Florida residents significant financial benefits and cost-saving opportunities, impacting schools, municipal fleets and potentially saving hundreds of millions of residents’ dollars,” DySard said in a statement. “It also hinders initiatives that could have helped ensure port electrification, funding for non-motorized SUN (Shared-Use Nonmotorized) trails and the enhancement of infrastructure for long-haul commercial trucking, ultimately impeding the state’s readiness for the future of transportation.”

Florida has put forward plans to spend up to $46 million to build 26 truck-parking areas with commercial vehicle charging stations. The Legislature approved $200 million during this spring’s session to expand the SUN Trails system.

Meanwhile, the state Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday and the House Transportation & Modals Subcommittee on Thursday will take up similar bills (SB 28 and HB 107) that would require electric-vehicle owners to pay a yearly registration fee, starting at $200, aimed at helping make up for lost gas-tax dollars.

A Senate staff analysis earlier this year said an increase in the use of electric vehicles could result in a 5.6 percent to 20 percent drop in “motor-fuel based revenue streams” by 2040.

Perdue’s letter came after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $30 million that would have allowed state agencies to seek up to $346 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants to improve energy efficiency in buildings.

“As highlighted in Florida’s recent response to a similar proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida has the cleanest air on record, meeting or exceeding all EPA benchmarks, with emissions continuing to fall as fast as our state grows,” Perdue wrote in the letter.

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