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How Gov. Crist became Gov. Climate
SOURCE: St. Petersburg Times
July 21 2007

Just six months after taking office, Gov. Charlie Crist has leaped to the forefront of an issue his predecessors rarely mentioned: global warming.

His two-day summit on the issue last week drew 600 participants. He was written up in Time and interviewed on the CBS Early Show. Environmental groups sang his praises, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called him "another great action hero."

How did the Republican governor suddenly become the Climate Change Crusader? He credits three people with spurring his involvement: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller and former California Environmental Protection Agency chief Terry Tamminen.

They educated Crist on the issue and galvanized him to launch far-reaching changes in the state's energy policies: cutting power plant emissions, requiring the use of alternate fuels and rewriting the building code to require more energy efficiency. He also signed agreements with the United Kingdom and Germany to work together.

"It's really borne fruit," Fuller said. "He really took to this."

Crist's initiative is more sweeping than those of the dozen or so other governors who have tackled the issue.

"What is it different here in Florida is the level of action the governor has announced right off the bat," said Tom Peterson, executive director of the Center for Climate Strategies, a nonprofit group that works with states on warming.

Crist's participation in cutting greenhouse gases is crucial to saving the planet, Peterson said, because American states produce more greenhouse gases than many nations. They are "the big kids on the block," he said.

"And Florida," he said, "is one of the biggest."

- - -

Last year, while Crist was still attorney general, Fuller visited him and other state officials to talk about Florida's vulnerability to global warming. Crist, a candidate to succeed Jeb Bush as governor, paid close attention.

"It's hard to be a Floridian and not be sensitive to it," said Crist, noting that the state's 1,350 miles of coastline could be inundated by rising sea levels.

Despite its vulnerability, Florida is the third-largest consumer of power in the country and ranks among the top 25 producers of greenhouse gases in the world.

Nearly half those gases come from the state's power plants. Crist has never been a fan of the utility industry. Ten years ago he sided with environmental groups in opposing Florida Power & Light's plans to burn a tar-based fuel called Orimulsion in its Manatee County power plant.

While he didn't bring up global warming during his campaign, Crist said he had already noticed the headlines coming out of California. Schwarzenegger, the movie star-turned-politician, had pushed through legislation that called for a 25 percent reduction in California's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. He also signed an agreement with Britain's then-prime minister, Tony Blair, to work together on combating climate change.

When Crist was sworn in as governor Jan. 2, his 20-minute inaugural address made no mention of global warming. The next day, though, an old friend drew him into the fray.

- - -

Crist and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker attended Florida State University together. As fellow Seminoles and Republicans, they are longtime allies and friends.

Last year Baker was tapped to chair a committee called the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, assigned by the Legislature to come up with a vision for the state's future in 50 years.

The day after Crist took office, Baker met with him to tell him what would be in the commission's first report. The commissioners had agreed that the state's top priority should be tackling global warming and would recommend that the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and power plants.

Crist said that meeting with Baker put global warming on his radar screen.

"His leadership of the Century Commission was excellent," Crist said.

Baker said he found Crist more receptive to taking on climate change than legislative leaders he met with later, some of whom expressed doubts about whether global warming really exists.

Then, on Feb. 6, Fuller came back to see Crist again to talk about global warming. This time he brought an important ally, the cherub-faced Tamminen, who was there at Schwarzenegger's behest.

Tamminen grew up in Australia, where his family ran a tropical fish breeding business. An avid flier and a licensed boat captain, he studied conch depletion in the Bahamas and manatee populations in Florida before founding the Santa Monica Bay Waterkeeper organization in California.

Tamminen helped Schwarzenegger win his first campaign, and became his top environmental adviser, helping him tackle global warming. Although Tamminen left his state job in 2006, he continued working with Schwarzenegger on climate issues.

When Schwarzenegger and Blair signed their agreement in July 2006, they did so out of a mutual frustration with the White House. Because the Bush administration would not act on global warming, Blair's staff focused on enlisting the states.

The Northeast and Western states had launched programs to deal with greenhouse gas reductions. That left the South, where Florida was seen as the key player.

So when Tamminen visited Crist, he brought along a map showing all the states taking action, and pointed out that the South was blank. Florida could be first. Crist was sold.

Last week in Miami, someone rattled off a list of scientists who still question global warming and asked Crist what scientist he relied on for proof it exists. The governor's one-word reply: "Terry."

A month after meeting Tamminen, Crist delivered his first State of the State speech to the Legislature. He talked about property taxes and education, then said: "I am persuaded that global climate change is one of the most important issues that we will face this century."

He promised to "bring together the brightest minds" and "place our state at the forefront of a growing worldwide movement to reduce greenhouse gases."

That March 6 speech signaled the genesis of his Miami summit. It also prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection to start crafting the orders that Crist would sign decreeing changes in the state's energy policy, said DEP Secretary Mike Sole.

A month later, Crist and his Cabinet spent half a day discussing global warming, and afterward talked for the first time to a representative from the United Kingdom about a partnership like California's.

Then he showed up at a Sheryl Crow concert in Gainesville where the singer was promoting global warming awareness. Crist promised the crowd he would take action.

Now that Crist has kept his promise, Schwarzenegger predicted, "he will build tremendous momentum here with the neighboring states ...and the rest of the world will follow."

Times staff writer Asjylyn Loder and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Time line

Jan. 2: Charlie Crist sworn in as governor.

Jan. 3: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker tells Crist that the Century Commission is recommending the state cut greenhouse gas emissions

Feb. 6: Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller introduces Crist to Terry Tamminen, former California EPA boss.

March 6: Crist targets global warming in his State of the State speech.

April 3: Crist and Cabinet discuss global warming and he meets with United Kingdom representative about partnership like California's.

April 16: Crist joins Sheryl Crow at concert in Gainesville, promises crowd he will take action on global warming.

July 13: Crist signs executive orders calling for cuts in greenhouse gases, more use of renewable energy and a revamp of the state's building code.

More arguments against global warming.