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O'Malley says state has 'moral obligation' to avert climate change

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Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday that Maryland will not meet its ambitious goal to cut greenhouse gases unless the state adopts more aggressive measures he is proposing.

The governor — who said the state has a "moral obligation" to avert climate change — outlined several strategies for more quickly reducing gases that drive global warming.

"This work is hard," said O'Malley, a Democrat. "It is life-and-death hard."

The accelerated plan would require the use of more renewable energy, which in the short term could drive up energy costs, and calls for cutting energy consumption by residents. To meet the state-mandated goal of cutting carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020, O'Malley also suggested boosting composting and recycling programs, doubling ridership on public transit, planting more trees and lowering the emissions cap on the state's seven coal-burning power plants.

His plan has been praised by environmentalists, but some Republicans have said its costs in the short term could be hard on consumers and some businesses.

The new plan, required by state law, was delivered to hundreds of environmental advocates, scientists and business leaders at a climate change summit in Linthicum. Like O'Malley's State of the State speech delivered in January, his remarks on climate change appeared directed to an audience both in Maryland and beyond, as the governor considers a presidential campaign for 2016.

The speech lauded Maryland as a leader in the field, and O'Malley said he would shop his plan to other states as way to move forward on fighting climate change. O'Malley's political action committee, O' Say Can You See, used his comments in an email blast to supporters, asking them to "say you're with me."

"If you are thinking about moving on to the next level, you need to take advantage of every resource and every opportunity you've got," said Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee, who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Every day is an opportunity to "plant your flag and create the kind of record you will lean on when you introduce yourself to a broader electorate."

O'Malley said that, without faster progress, Maryland would reduce its carbon emissions by only about 17 percent by 2020. The state is one of eight with self-imposed mandates to cut greenhouse gases, and the 25 percent target is the second-highest in the country. Maryland is also part of a regional cap-and-trade program designed to reduce fossil fuel emissions from power plants by as much as 40 percent.

Lawmakers and utility regulators must approve O'Malley's plan, some of which has already been rejected by legislators. This year, the General Assembly killed a bill to forbid counting a byproduct of paper mills known as "black liquor" as a renewable energy resource, but O'Malley included the proposal in his plan.

Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said that even though Maryland is a small state, its per capita greenhouse gas emission is four times that of residents in China and double that of Europeans. Boesch said that higher standards in Maryland could make it home to businesses and to technology that would be used across the country. "It can be far better for our people if we're leaders than if we're laggards," he said.

The Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University concluded the 150 separate proposals in O'Malley's plan — much of which is already underway — would generate $1.6 billion for the state's economy and create 67,000 jobs.

Del. Stephen Hershey, an Eastern Shore Republican, said the benefits for new green businesses may come at the expense of small businesses hurting under higher energy costs.

"All of these new jobs have to be paid for somehow," he said.

ecox@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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