UM study finds MD climate law no drag on economy

Maryland's effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by the end of the decade shouldn't cost the state any jobs, and may actually trigger new "green" employment, a pair of new studies say.

The two reports by the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Environmental Research were commissioned by the state Department of the Environment, which is required under the 2009 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act to produce a draft plan by the end of this year for how to curb climate-altering carbon dioxide and other gases.

The legislature, in approving the law nearly three years ago, ordered the administration to show through independent studies that the effort wouldn't hurt the reliability of the state's electricity supply or hurt manufacturing.  Since then, the economy has tanked, Congress balked at adopting any climate-change legislation, and federal regulatory efforts to deal with greenhouse gases have slowed under fire from those who contend they'll hurt an already slumping economy.

The two UM reports conclude that in Maryland, at least, the effort to cut back climate-harming emissions would improve the availability of power, if anything, and that there would be no significant harm done to manufacturing or to the economy in general.

"We've tried really hard to find all kinds of ways in which, especially during this downturn in the economy, we could take a serious look at this and say, 'Where can it hurt us?'" said Matthias Ruth, director of the UM center.  "And we couldn't find it."


MDE is still working on its draft plan for reducing greenhouse gases, according to spokesman Jay Apperson.  A commission appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley three years ago proposed a menu of 42 different actions the state could take to mitigate its impact on global climate change. 

UM researchers, in partnership with scholars from Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute and Johns Hopkins University, focused on three initiatives already under way - the legislated mandate to produce 20 percent of the state's power using sources other than fossil fuels; the Norheast's interstate compact to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and the state's incentives promoting energy efficiency in homes and businesses.

"We expect some jobs to be created," Ruth said, in "green" businesses like building weatherization and even in manufacturing of wind turbine components.  And while electricity costs are expected to go up at least a little at first as a result of regulations on coal-burning power plants and to suport wind and solar power, but the UM studies concluded those will not be significant drags on manufacturing, which has already been in a long-term decline.

Ruth said the climate effort "is just going to be a little blip in the overall trend" in manufacturing.

Whether that will satisfy climate skeptics or critics of government regulation remains to be seen.  Maryland lawmakers will have a chance to review and debate the draft plan next year.   New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie recently pulled his state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, saying he doubted its efficacy in dealing with a global climate change.  Maryland's O'Malley publicly differed with him over that, arguing that state action is called for, even in the absence of clear federal initiative.

"On the contrary, if you want to be bold," said Ruth, "this is the time to get ahead of the curve" even as some are holding back. The nation and the world ultimately are going to have to shift away from fossil fuels, for a variety of reasons, and nations and states that recognize that will come out ahead, he argued.

"We'll build an industry and an infrastructure that's more in tune with the world in which we'll live than the one we come out from," Ruth said.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat who was chief sponsor of the law, said he wasn't surprised by the studies' findings.

"We can start to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and still grow the economy," he said, contrary to critics who've contended it will cost jobs.  He acknowledged that Maryland acting alone won't move the needle on climate change, but "at least we make a dent in it."  He said he still hopes a new Congress or other states will follow Maryland's lead.

To read the reports, go here.  To see the plan proposed by the state Climate Action Commission, go here.

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