No time to dawdle

December 06, 2007

It may seem odd that little Maryland is preparing to declare war on global warming. But the federal government has dragged its feet for so long that many states have concluded they must act on their own before it's too late.

There is a symbolic element to Maryland's decision to consider setting its own bold goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as part of a regional program for curbing carbon dioxide from power plants. Maryland, its sister states in the Northeast and a dozen others around the country are sending a message to Congress and countries elsewhere in the world that they acknowledge the danger of global climate change and recognize that the consequences of inaction will fall on them.

The recommendations being drafted for Gov. Martin O'Malley by the Maryland Commission for Climate Change are not just for show, however. In fact, even the tiniest communities of Maryland are on the front lines of the battle against global warming. What they do - how they change their growth, energy, transportation and other policies - will determine success or failure, as will the actions of communities in other states.

The draft recommendations released this week call for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland by 25 percent of 2006 levels as of 2020, and by 90 percent as of 2050 - far more ambitious goals than Congress is now struggling to approve.

Beyond that, the commission is calling for increasing energy efficiency standards and tightening up restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean shorelines to reflect rising sea levels and avoid flood disasters. Included in the broad sweep of other proposals under consideration are pay-as-you-drive auto insurance that would encourage conservation and an experiment with burying carbon underground by planting more forests.

Some of these proposals will require legislation that Mr. O'Malley is expected to submit during next year's General Assembly session. But perhaps most important - and most difficult - is changing a mindset that has allowed Marylanders to believe they could burn what they want, build where they want and drive what they want with no consequences other than to their wallets.

An enormous challenge awaits. But it is also an opportunity to undertake the comprehensive approach to resource management that is needed to save the Chesapeake Bay. As Governor O'Malley and other regional leaders acknowledged at their annual meeting yesterday, that effort is woefully short of where it should be.

There's simply no more time to waste.

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