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Florida rejects $320M federal grant and sparks statewide debate: A bold stand or a step backward?

Florida – Florida’s Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue recently turned down a large government grant, which has caused a lot of debate across the state. The $320 million fund, which was part of a larger plan to cut down on emissions from tailpipes, was turned down because it was seen as too much government involvement in state matters.

This ruling was sent by Secretary Perdue to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a letter on November 13. Because of this decision, Florida can’t take part in the ambitious Carbon Reduction Program that is part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The goal of this $1.2-trillion bill is to completely rebuild and improve the United States’ transportation system, with a big focus on how it will affect the environment.

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What makes Florida’s refusal so strong is the details of the law. The point of disagreement for Secretary Perdue is how the act is interpreted. He says that the law doesn’t make it clear that states have to set and track specific goals for lowering CO2 emissions. This point of view questions the idea that the federal government can set such standards for the states.

The claimed lack of clarity from the federal side makes things even more complicated. Perdue says that the U.S. Department of traffic has not given enough information on how states should report or prove their efforts to cut down on traffic emissions. This lack of direction, according to Perdue, makes it hard for states to meet the goals of the program.

“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.

Just a few days after Perdue shot off that note to Buttigieg, something big happened at the White House on November 22. They rolled out this new rule that tells state transportation departments to keep an eye on the greenhouse gases their transport systems are pumping out, and to come up with plans to cut down those emissions. But here’s the thing: there’s no real punishment if they don’t hit their targets.

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“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.

This whole initiative is part of a massive $27 billion slice of the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, which is focused on projects that’ll help in slashing carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, Ali DySard over at the Environmental Defense Fund’s office in Florida isn’t exactly doing cartwheels about Perdue’s move. He’s pretty bummed out about it.

“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’s got a pretty ambitious plan cooking. They’re looking to throw down about $46 million to set up 26 spots where trucks can park and charge up their batteries. This is just part of a bigger picture, where the Legislature said “yes” to spending a hefty $200 million this spring to beef up the SUN Trails system.

In the meantime, things are getting interesting over at the state capitol. The Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, and the House Transportation & Modals Subcommittee on Thursday, are gearing up to look over a couple of bills that are pretty much twins (we’re talking SB 28 and HB 107 here). The big idea? They want folks who own electric vehicles to start paying a yearly fee, starting at $200, to sort of make up for the cash they’re not spending on gas taxes.

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A bit earlier in the year, the Senate staff crunched some numbers and figured that with more people switching to electric vehicles, there could be a drop – anywhere from 5.6% to a whopping 20% – in the money they get from fuel taxes by the time 2040 rolls around.

And about Perdue’s letter? That popped up after Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to axe a cool $30 million that would’ve let state agencies chase after up to $346 million in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal? To get better energy efficiency in buildings. But, no dice this time.

“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.

Ryan Johnson
Ryan Johnson
Ryan Johnson leads the Florida Daily Chronicle with over 20 years of experience. A Jacksonville native, he focuses on sharing Florida's diverse stories and pushing for digital innovation in news.


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