Drastic action on warming

Governor's panel urges that Md. take steps to slash pollution 90%

December 05, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

An advisory panel appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley is proposing that the state slash global warming pollution from Maryland by 90 percent by 2050 - one of the most ambitious goals in the country.

"The climate crisis is real, and while it threatens our shorelines today, its causes and symptoms threaten life on our planet in the generations ahead unless we act," O'Malley says in the report.

To reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pouring from power plants and other sources, Maryland should join other states in the region in creating a system of penalties and rewards to discourage pollution, according to an interim report of the 22-member Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which is led by O'Malley's Cabinet members.

Under the "cap and trade" system, the state would impose fees on companies that exceed the limits, with the money going to reward cleaner businesses.

State Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson, who chaired the panel, said Maryland should also do more to encourage energy conservation and alternative energy sources, and do a better job of planning and managing growth, to reduce sprawl and the miles people have to drive.

And to limit damage to the state's shorelines from rising sea levels, Wilson said, the state should identify areas where developers should be required to build "soft shorelines" or artificial wetlands instead of rock walls.

"We will have to take a look at everything we do, in terms of state and local government action," to address the problem of global warming, Wilson said.

The panel was established after state lawmakers rejected a bill this year that would have required all businesses to cut emissions of global warming gases and legislation that would have forced all new state buildings to meet energy-efficient standards.

Among the concrete steps suggested in the report are that Maryland lawmakers follow California's example and pass a law requiring a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020.

Some of the new recommendations will require approval from the General Assembly, which begins its regular session in January. Others can be implemented administratively.

The 61-page "Climate Action Plan" was released during a time of intense debate around the world over what government should do about climate change.

World leaders are meeting in Bali to discuss international efforts. And a U.S. Senate committee is scheduled today to debate amendments on a landmark bill proposed by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and John W. Warner of Virginia that would create a national "cap and trade" system to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

In anticipation of a vote on that bill, environmental groups held a flurry of news conferences yesterday to press for action.

In Maryland, Wilson said she and the other members of the commission - which includes six lawmakers - will present their ideas to O'Malley and legislative leaders in the coming weeks.

It's not clear whether O'Malley will embrace the recommended steps or the goal of a 90 percent reduction by 2050, which is higher than the 80 percent cut adopted by California, Florida, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Wilson said.

"I haven't had a chance to brief him on it yet," said Wilson, who was appointed by O'Malley. "But the governor has said that the time to act has passed and the time to catch up is now. ... He will be reviewing these to determine which of these [steps] he will embrace."

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the Democratic governor, said O'Malley will study the report and have more to say on what he'll do. "The goals are ambitious and would put Maryland at the forefront on some of these issues," Abbruzzese said. "But the goals are also science-based. "

Frank Maisano, a lobbyist who represents power companies and wind farm developers, questioned the feasibility of a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

"That is an awfully aggressive goal for what we know to be technologically feasible," Maisano said. "The rhetoric has to match up with the reality. I hope they're not biting off more than they can chew."

Maisano pointed out that Maryland passed a renewable-energy law a few years ago to encourage wind power and other clean energy sources, but no wind farms have been built here.

Meantime, many environmentalists praised the goals. "This forward-thinking report is a fantastic first step in confronting the issue of catastrophic climate change," said Claire Douglass, a coordinator for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Others said the report lacks concrete recommendations for transportation, as the state moves forward with the Intercounty Connector highway project in the Washington suburbs, which some fear could bring more pollution.

"The targets are impressive, but the urgency of climate change requires we ensure that strong, achievable goals are matched with specific plans that can actually be implemented," said Dave O'Leary, energy chairman for the Maryland Sierra Club.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

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