by David Chapman
With $300 million given to states Clean Cities Coalition programs earlier this year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one would think Florida – as the nation’s fourth largest state – would have gotten its fair share.
Instead, it got nothing.
Northeast Florida hasn’t been in the Clean Cities program (the only two in Florida are in the Space Coast and Gold Coast), but officials of the Northeast Florida Transportation Planning Organization have been in the process of forming a coalition for months when it hosted an inaugural meeting that began the process of getting the region in line with the nationwide program.
Clean Cities is a government and industry partnership designed to reduce petroleum usage through advancing alternative fuels and vehicles, idle reduction technology, hybrid electric vehicles, fuel blends and fuel economy measures and is accomplished through voluntary, community-centric programs. Since inception in 1993, nearly 90 coalitions and 5,550 stakeholders have formed.
Officials from the City, JEA, Jacksonville Port Authority, Jacksonville Aviation Authority – each with their own vehicle fleets – and transportation officials attended the meeting to hear more about Clean Cities from Jeff Greene, business development director of Wise Gas and chair of the Gold Coast Clean Cities coalition, who gave an overview of the coalition’s objectives, designation requirements and membership benefits.
The North Florida Coalition – to consist of Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns Counties – isn’t alone in its goal of joining the program, as five other proposed coalitions are in the process of forming throughout the state.
The issue Clean Cities helps solve is threefold, said Greene during his presentation, as heavy dependence on foreign oil is a national security, economic and environmental issue, the use of alternative, cleaner and homegrown energies are a solution for all three.
Recently, alternative energy company officials have realized the need for a shift in thinking and to “play nice and support each other,“ in the battle against oil dependency, said Greene.
“There’s been a change,” said Greene. “Instead of all the different alternative energy companies playing poker against each other, they’re now playing blackjack, with oil as the dealer.”
Clean Cities Coalition recognizes nine alternative fuels, including natural gas, biodiesel and electric as viable emission-reducing fuels, with each future North Florida Coalition monthly meetings beginning in January to focus on an individual type.
Greene said there’s a goal of more than 18,000 alternative-fuel vehicles in Florda by 2012, with a Northeast Florida goal of around 1,400 all based on population.
Greene’s optimistic of that goal and several of the attending officials were encouraged by what they heard, saying they are looking forward to being a part of the greener solution moving forward.
“I was a part of the JCCI (Jacksonville Community Council Inc.) annual study on air quality,” said Jay Worley, JEA director of environmental programs, “and it has been a need.”
If funds designated for Clean Cities were to become available while the North Florida Coalition was in the process of becoming designated, because it is in the process it could piggyback off the Gold Coast’s application, but the hardest part is over.
“The most difficult piece of the puzzle is appointing a coordinator and securing funding,” said Greene, “but you guys have done that, so congratulations.”