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Deeper climate pollution cuts urged for Maryland

Maryland urged to up the ante in fighting climate change, seek to slash greenhouse gases 40 percent by 2030.

Assured that Maryland is on track to significantly reducing its climate-altering pollution, a broad-based state commission called Thursday for the state to raise the ante by pledging to slash greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.

The goal — which if passed into law would be one of the most ambitious set so far by a state — drew unanimous support of the 26-member panel, which includes lawmakers, environmentalists, representatives of business and labor, and top officials in the Hogan administration.

The recommendation is likely to lead to legislation in the General Assembly, which must decide next year whether to stick with the goal it set in 2009 of reducing climate-warming emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Environment Secretary Benjamin H. Grumbles told the panel the state appeared likely to meet that target while also realizing new jobs and business from the effort.

"We think it's important to continue to make progress," Grumbles said after the vote. "And it's also important to strengthen the linkage to economy and to jobs."

Supporters said the accord puts off for now fierce political debates about how or even whether to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that collect in the atmosphere and create a greenhouse effect that warms the earth's surface.

"It's pretty extraordinary in this day and age to see a bipartisan commission — [including one] representing the highest levels of a Republican administration — voting for such cutting-edge reductions of greenhouse gas emissions," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Only California and New York have set more ambitious targets for curbing their states' climate pollution, he said.

GOP politicians and officeholders nationwide have opposed moves to curb climate pollution, voicing concerns that they could harm the economy or questioning the scientific evidence that human activity is altering the climate in potentially disastrous ways.

Grumbles declined to address politics. He said the panel's vote was "driven by science," but he also stressed that it had recommended further action only as long as it helped the state's economy and produced more jobs.

Those are the same conditions under which the state has been making progress on reaching its current climate goal, he said.

Matthew A. Clark, a spokesman for Hogan, stopped short of endorsing the commission's recommendation but said it was "promising" that the panel unanimously linked economic growth to addressing climate change.

"Setting business-friendly and attainable goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is a step in the right direction," Clark said.

Donald F. Boesch, a panel member, said that if the state can achieve a 40 percent reduction by 2030, it would be roughly on pace to make the even deeper cuts of 70 to 80 percent that climate scientists have said the United States needs to make by 2050 to limit global warming.

Boesch is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

"From a climate disruption standpoint," he said, " there is no such thing as excessive reduction of emissions, because we have to get to zero by the end of the century."

The commission vote represented a compromise between environmentalists seeking deeper cuts and business representatives urging smaller ones — or setting no new goal at all for now.

State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a leading voice for the environment in the legislature, said it was important to reach agreement now to avoid the political gridlock that delayed passage of the 25 percent goal for two years.

"This is for now the consensus," the Prince George's County Democrat said. If it passes, he acknowledged, it likely will spur renewed debates over such fractious issues as mandating renewable energy projects or expanding energy conservation efforts.

Michael Powell, a Baltimore lawyer representing business and industry on the panel, said he agreed to the new goal because it included continuing economic safeguards.

Manufacturers, which account for a small fraction of the state's climate emissions, would remain exempt from having to comply with any mandated cuts. Further, Powell noted, the panel called for requiring a mid-point review and adjustment if the goal proved onerous.

Sparrows Point Terminal, the company seeking to redevelop the former-steel-making complex in eastern Baltimore County, had urged the panel not to set a new goal, saying it feared that would discourage new businesses. Company vice president Aaron Tomarchio said he was only somewhat reassured that the panel had urged continuing to exempt manufacturers.

"Does it give us heartburn? No, not yet," he said. "But we'll wait to see what this turns out to be in legislation."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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