About 60 global warming protesters raised an oversized hourglass outside the State House in Annapolis yesterday, telling Gov. Martin O'Malley that "the time to commit is now" to sweeping cuts in carbon dioxide pollution.
"Doing nothing is no longer an option," state Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House Democratic leader, told the sign-waving group in the sweltering heat. "Every major reform that has ever happened in American history has happened first at the state level and then percolated up to the federal level."
Barve, from Montgomery County, was a co-sponsor of failed legislation this year that would have followed California's lead and imposed a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide pollution from all sources.
Even though that effort was blocked by Senate Democratic leaders, O'Malley signed a narrower law designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all new cars by a third. Maryland also joined a coalition of Northeastern states pledging to cut carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants by 10 percent. The governor also set a goal of reducing electricity consumption in Maryland by 15 percent by 2015.
Those at the rally urged the governor to go further and back a bill in the next General Assembly session that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from all sources by 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The proposal would create incentives to encourage greater energy efficiency in household appliances and business equipment, expand mass transit and include a requirement that utilities buy 20 percent of their electricity from wind farms and other renewable energy sources.
O'Malley has appointed a 22-member Commission on Climate Change, which is studying whether the administration should back a similar bill or take other actions to reduce pollution.
Some businesses have opposed mandated reductions in greenhouse gases. These critics argue such limits would harm Maryland's economy - especially if neighboring states have more relaxed standards. A report by Constellation Energy Group this year warned that carbon dioxide cuts would impose "severe economic restrictions," including limits on how many miles people could drive and how often they could operate boats, tractors and business machinery.
The result would be a $134 million annual drop in state revenue for a cut in carbon dioxide emissions that make up less than a quarter of a percent of the world's total, according to the report that Constellation gave to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Miller blocked the bill this year, saying it would be too costly for a state facing a deficit.
Heather Hamilton, a vice president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday that the state should wait for federal or international action to reduce global warming gases. "Maryland contributes a very small amount to the overall emissions globally, and it would not be good for Maryland to act alone because it would have a very large impact on the business community," Hamilton said.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and co-sponsor of the Global Warming Solutions Act that failed this year, dismissed Constellation's gloomy projections as the "normal posturing" of a business that wants to keep its profits.
"They have an agenda; we understand that," Pinsky said. "They have been making money hand over fist."
During the rally beside the State House, Brad Heavner, director of Environment Maryland, presented the O'Malley administration with 5,400 signed postcards urging stronger state action on global warming.
Representing the O'Malley administration, George S. "Tad" Aburn, director of air programs at the Maryland Department of the Environment, told the crowd that the governor's commission will seriously consider a cut in carbon dioxide of at least 20 percent, if not more.
"These kinds of goals are achievable, but it's going to require the support of a lot of Marylanders," Aburn said. He thanked the environmental groups - which included Environment Maryland, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club - for "building the grass-roots support necessary" for reductions in global warming gases.
The Governor's Climate Change Commission, led by state Environmental Secretary Shari T. Wilson, held its third meeting yesterday. The panel plans to issue a report by Nov. 1 on how Maryland might further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. California, New Jersey and Hawaii have passed laws aimed at a 20 percent cut in such emissions by 2020.