Maryland Governor Unveils Strongest US Plan To Fight Climate Change

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If Governor Martin O’Malley gets his way, Maryland may soon lead America in the fight against climate change and transition toward a clean energy future.

Governor Martin O'Malley
Governor Martin O’Malley picture via Maryland Governor’s Office

In a speech today, O’Malley announced an aggressive plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy in his state. Under the plan, Maryland would meet the goal of reducing emissions 25% by 2020 targeted by the state legislature under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act.

The comprehensive new standards would place Maryland in the upper echelon of state action to fight climate change, second only to California, and cover virtually every source of emissions across the state.

Lower Emissions Start In Maryland’s Power Sector

O’Malley’s plan includes more than 150 programs and initiatives designed to reduce emissions and create green jobs across every aspect of Maryland’s economy. Instead of hurting businesses, the plan to fight climate change will boost the state’s growing green economy and create 37,000 new jobs with $1.6 billion in new economic activity.

Projected Maryland CO2 sector reductions
Maryland emissions reductions by sector graph via Climate Change Maryland

As with every other state, Maryland’s emissions cuts must start with the state’s power generation sector.  Electricity consumption represented 40% of the state’s emissions in 2006, but the 30 programs in O’Malley’s plan that target the energy sector will reduce emissions by 25.3 million tons per year, nearly half the reduction needed to meet the 25% reductions goal.

The full litany of energy sector programs is too long to list here, but they center on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), EmPOWER Maryland, and the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

These programs aren’t new for Maryland, but they’re expanding. O’Malley pledged to push to expand the state’s RPS to 25% by 2020 (up from the current 20% by 2022), enforce the voluntary RGGI target of reducing emissions from coal plants 2.5% per year, and targeting reductions in per capita electricity consumption and peak load demand 15% by 2015 through EmPOWER Maryland.

O’Malley is also pushing to make the state’s definition of clean energy, well, a lot cleaner. He successfully passed legislation intended to develop America’s first offshore wind farm, and his climate plan both warns that methane leaks of more than 3% from natural gas drilling eliminates its benefits over coal while removing the paper pulping byproduct “black liquor” from the state’s definition of renewable energy.

Climate Plan Covers Almost Every Sector Of State Economy

But while Maryland’s plan puts the biggest focus on energy sector emissions, additional initiatives cover emissions and energy use in the transportation, land use, agriculture, waste, and building sectors.

Projected Maryland CO2 reductions
Projected annual emissions reductions graph via Climate Change Maryland
  • Transportation: 110 programs in the transportation sector would reduce emissions by 13.8 million metric tons, a quarter of the reductions needed to meet the state’s expanded goal.
  • Agriculture: 20 programs in the agricultural sector, including improvements to sustainable management practices in the state’s forests and reforesting 43,030 acres by 2020, will reduce emissions by 5.2 million metric tons annually and contribute 10% of total emissions cuts.
  • Zero waste: The plan sets a goal of reducing solid waste 85% and reaching zero waste sent to landfills and incinerators by 2030 through a 60% recycling rate and 65% waste diversion, contributing 4.8 million metric tons of reduced emissions annually.
  • Buildings: Increased energy efficiency standards and updated building codes will be implemented to reduce emissions by 3.2 million metric tons annually.
  • Land use: Improved land use strategies would reduce emissions by 1.1 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent by 2020.

Urgent Climate Imperatives Show A Path Forward For Others

While O’Malley’s plan lays out a path forward to a clean energy future, the climate imperative of taking action gets more urgent every day.

In his speech, O’Malley noted the state’s increased vulnerability to sea level rise, with water rising 3 to 4 times the national average, costing 1.6 acres of land every day and potentially swallowing up one-third of the Port of Baltimore.

Indeed, with 3,100 miles of tidal shoreline, Maryland is literally at risk of being swamped by climate change, and a recent report projected sea levels across the state will rise between one and two feet by 2050 and up to six feet by 2100. State residents have seen the impacts and want action – 86% say climate change is happening and two-thirds think the government should work to confront it.

But Maryland isn’t alone, and sooner or later, every state will need to face facts and take action. O’Malley just happens to be the first to take action. “In the face of virtually unrecognizable weather and rapidly rising seas, Governor O’Malley is stepping up to lead,” said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The Governor’s plan is an example that other states should follow, given the intensifying impacts of climate change and the unacceptably slow response on Capitol Hill.”

Note: the third paragraph was updated to reflect the state legislature’s role in setting greenhouse gas reduction targets.

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