Electric-vehicle bill picks up an odd passenger: fuel pipelines

Electric-vehicle charging stations are becoming more common in Florida. Credit: Getty Images

A bill to build electric-vehicle charging stations on Florida highways has turned into a broader piece of legislation that alarms clean-energy advocates.

The advocates fear the overhauled bill could allow more construction of fuel pipelines for oil and gas in rural areas protected by conservation easements.

What happened was that Republican State Sen. Tom Lee presented what is called a substitute amendment that basically rewrote the EV-charging bill by adding major sections pertaining to utilities and conservation easements. He promised to work this week with critics to ease their concerns, which are many.

The substitute was approved 9-1 in a Senate committee last week, with Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat from Miami-Dade, opposing the new language. Several other lawmakers voiced deep concern but agreed to vote in favor, trusting Lee would make changes more suitable to them as the bill advances in the legislative process.

“This is a completely different bill, with this amendment,” said Rodriguez, a leading advocate of Florida’s conversion to clean energy. “It just seems to go in the opposite direction of energy conservation and the stated purposes of the original bill, if this is facilitating the development of oil and gas pipelines.

“We’re broadening the bill from electric vehicle charging stations to critical state infrastructure. Could you talk about why we’re doing that?” Rodriguez asked Lee.

Lee, who represents part of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, said he added the new provisions to strengthen the state’s power infrastructure against storms.

The language permits new uses of conservation easements through “rural and family lands” and expands authorization for “linear facilities” such as transmission lines. The new bill creates a large role for the Public Service Commission, which regulates Florida’s private, investor-owned utilities.

Lee presented the substitute amendment the night before the committee convened, leaving no time for staff to analyze it.

“Linear facilities include not only power lines, transmission lines, but also oil or gas pipelines,” said David Cullen, with the Sierra Club of Florida.

“It [the bill] started out as EV charging, and then this amendment came last night and I’ve been trying to go through it and understand. Now we’re adding utilities to it, so it didn’t seem to match up much,” said Sen. Linda Stewart, a Democrat from Orlando.

Chairwoman Debbie Mayfield, a Republican from Indian River and Brevard counties, said she prefers to see EV charging stations built by the private sector, and she urged caution.

“This is a way that people are going to get into electric cars and I think that is the right path to go into, but at the same time, there’s a lot of unintended consequences that we need to get in front of  … so we’re not substituting one thing to save our environment, to harm it in another way,” she said.