State climate panel urges action

Commission proposes 90 percent emissions cut by 2050, plans for rising water

August 27, 2008|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,frank.roylance@baltsun.com

The state Commission on Climate Change is urging comprehensive action to reduce air pollution, get ready for a warming climate and prepare for rising water along Maryland's vulnerable coastline.

In a report to be released today, the panel urges Gov. Martin O'Malley to seek legislative and policy changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland by 10 percent by 2012, and 90 percent by 2050.

The report's 42 recommendations include tighter restrictions on coastline development, new standards for power generation, and stricter building codes and land-use planning.

"The exciting part of the commission's work here is that this is very doable," said Maryland Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson, who chaired the panel. "For the first time, it quantifies the emissions-reductions benefits of a variety of options and lays out a road map we can take, whether as an individual consumer or as a state government."

An administration-backed bill that would have committed the state to the 90 percent cut in emissions failed this year in Annapolis. Manufacturers and labor unions warned that it could drive industry from Maryland and cost jobs.

The commission said climate-related legislation that did pass is expected to get the state more than halfway to the 2020 goal of a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels. Adoption of its plan, the panel said, could "easily" achieve that 25 percent cut.

O'Malley, in a statement from the Democratic National Convention in Denver, thanked the commission but did not offer any immediate agenda for implementing its recommendations.

"I look forward to carefully reviewing the report, and working with all stakeholders to develop both short- and long-term strategies to address climate change," he said.

Brad Heavner, state director of Environment Maryland, who served on a commission working group, called the recommendations "a good plan for taking us to the future."

The report shows "that aggressive pollution targets are possible and good for the state, not only environmentally, but economically," he said. "We can get it done this year."

Critics said that proposals to cut carbon emissions don't point out the costs of reaching those goals, and could have painful economic consequences for Maryland manufacturers and labor.

"Maryland is less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. emissions, and the U.S. is not even the largest country in terms of greenhouse gas emissions anymore," said Michael C. Powell, a lawyer and lobbyist representing manufacturers on the issue. "We believe these issues should be addressed on a national level."

The commission said the biggest emissions reductions would come from increased use of renewable energy, cleaner electrical generation, tougher energy efficiency standards and a cap-and-trade plan that would allow some industries to purchase pollution "credits."

Society has incurred "considerable costs," the panel argues, from past decisions that were "not in sync with past and present climate conditions, ... These costs are likely to increase as climate change accelerates." The benefits of warming temperatures are fleeting, the commission said, while "the costs of inaction are likely to stay and increase."

The commission includes 22 Cabinet secretaries, agency heads and mostly Democratic lawmakers. Their scientific working group warned this month that Maryland should expect a 3-degree rise in average annual temperatures by mid-century, or a 9-degree jump in summer temperatures by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. Sea levels could rise another 1 to 3 feet in this century.

The fastest and cheapest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions would be through energy efficiency and the development of a "clean energy industry," the commission concluded. "By lagging behind other states that are already investing in the fast-growing clean energy industry, Maryland is missing out on huge economic development and growth potential," the commission found.

"It sounds as though this is forward-thinking; it's aggressive and particularly appropriate for a state as vulnerable to climate change as Maryland," said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters.

The commission also called for new "smart growth" strategies, and revisions to building codes and design standards to reduce coastal development and protect it against damage.

"Two to three feet of sea-level rise would inundate thousands of properties in low-lying areas and expose millions of dollars worth of public infrastructure to the threat of submergence and/or storm surge," the report states. "Over time, state and local government will not be able to afford to assist all in need - the costs will just be too high."

For the full report, go to www.mde.state.md.us/Air/climatechange/in dex.asp.

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