Known for nonsensical sayings, Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Florida is at a fork in the road when it comes to the future of transportation. The climate crisis threatens Florida’s economic pillars – tourism, agriculture, real estate development, and ports. We must address this problem and the resulting effects such as sea-level rise and killer heat.
Because dangerous carbon emissions from the transportation sector now outpace those from power plants, the state must be a leader in the electrification of transportation. The good news is that we have an opportunity to make some headway right now.
You may remember that a few years back, Volkswagen admitted to falsifying emissions levels from its diesel engines, which were in gross violation of Clean Air Act standards.
When exposed, VW agreed to a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency to help reduce the nitrogen oxides emissions that were generated by Volkswagen vehicles operating without the required emissions controls.
Florida’s share of that settlement is more than $166 million, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) gets to decide how the money is spent.
It already has committed 15 percent — the maximum allowed — to electric vehicle charging infrastructure. That’s a good thing. And Gov. Ron DeSantis has wisely committed to putting chargers along Florida’s Turnpike.
Another 15 percenthas been earmarked for diesel where no alternative vehicles exist, such as tugboats.
So what’s in question is the remaining 70 percent of the settlement money.
As a Floridian – and a native at that – who values clean air and the benefits that electric transportation provides, I’m concerned that the draft plan for spending that money leaves the door open for part of the funds to be used on fossil fuel-powered transportation.
Electric vehicles are clean. They are way more efficient than combustion vehicles, and save money with reduced maintenance and operating costs.This money should be spent on options such as electric buses, which are cheaper to run and maintain.
In the draft plan, DEP states that options that reduce pollutants the most in the short term will be given priority consideration. Sounds good, right? Not really.
Fossil fuel buses may reduce pollution on a “cost per ton” basis in the short term, but not over the lifetime of a bus. An electric bus costs less than diesel over a vehicle’s lifetime.
There is no good reason to fund the purchase of polluting buses. Diesel exhaust contains ozone precursors, benzene, arsenic, dioxins, formaldehyde and other toxic substances and is a significant contributor to airborne fine particulate matter.
Significant health problems including lung damage and premature death are associated with exposure to fine particulate matter. Diesel exhaust can also aggravate asthma and bronchitis. It has been classified as a probable human carcinogen with no known safe level of exposure.
DEP can best protect Florida citizens by turning VW’s pollution scandal into a plan that embraces clean energy solutions. Looking at costs over the lifetime of an investment is the place to start.
We also need a timeline for action. Florida was the last state in the nation to submit its draft plan and there is no reason to delay.
Now here’s where you play a part. DEP has a public comment period before the draft plan is finalized. Tell the DEP that dirty buses are not an option.Comments are accepted until 5 p.m. on Aug. 16 at VWMitigation@FloridaDEP.gov.
The clock is ticking on irreversible climate damage. So to quote Florida’s previous governor – who famously banned the term “climate change” – Let’s Get to Work!
Susan Glickman is the Florida Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy www.cleanenergy.org
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.