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The importance of Maryland's leadership on climate change

During my service as the secretary of Environmental Regulation in Florida and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, I came to appreciate that state action is central to strong environmental protection. Working with the states, the EPA has established and implemented important pollution limits for dangerous toxic emissions including arsenic, mercury and lead. It only makes sense to do the same for carbon pollution, just as Gov. Martin O'Malley recently proposed.

Maryland has spent decades trying to reverse the impacts of the dangerous pollution of our air and water by fighting fiercely to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the important economic benefits it provides to the state and the region. Now, the state is leading the way to reverse the harmful impacts of climate change with a bold plan to reduce carbon pollution by 25 percent.

Maryland has a reason to act. Much like the fight to save the oysters, crabs and waterways, the fight to protect against the impacts of climate change has a significant economic impact. The cumulative cost to Maryland taxpayers of severe weather events in 2011 and 2012, including Hurricane Sandy, was over $70 million. Twenty-three counties in Maryland required federal assistance in the wake of Sandy.

Governor Martin O'Malley has outlined a strong plan to cut Maryland's carbon pollution, demonstrating how state leadership can protect our kids and our planet from the public health, security and financial risks associated with climate change, carbon pollution and extreme weather. Mr. O'Malley's plan comes on the heels of a national climate change action plan outlined by President Barack Obama in June that also calls for investment in clean energy, improved efficiency and cutting carbon pollution from the nation's largest source of the climate change fueling pollutant — existing coal-fired power plants.

Maryland's treasured coastline and Chesapeake Bay make it vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding and extreme storms. The O'Malley administration realizes the urgency of acting on climate change and outlines more than 150 initiatives to reduce carbon pollution. The governor's plan calls for increasing and accelerating Maryland's renewable portfolio standard from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020. His plan also calls for adding 43,000 acres of forest by 2020, using trees to scrub the air of carbon pollution. Additionally, the plan looks to enhance the EmPOWER energy efficiency program to reduce per capita electricity consumption by Maryland consumers by 15 percent by 2015. These are just some of the smart, pragmatic measures that will cut carbon pollution, put people to work and protect public health throughout Maryland.

Governor O'Malley's plan puts Maryland at the leadership table when it comes to meeting the climate challenge. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have together formed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first market-based regulatory program in the U.S. to reduce carbon pollution. California has a plan to reduce carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Twenty nine states and the District of Columbia also have renewable portfolio standards or mandated renewable capacity policy.

Taking action on climate change is a growing priority for Americans. A recent national survey found that 65 percent of Americans support steps to cut carbon pollution. Another survey conducted by the League of Conservation Voters found that 80 percent of voters under 35 years old support the president's climate change action plan, and 79 percent of those same young voters are more likely to vote for someone who supports taking steps to address climate change. And, this summer, communities across the country are calling for action on climate change as part of the http://www.iwillact.us public awareness effort.

We don't need another superstorm like Sandy pounding Maryland to remind us of the dangers of a changing climate. It's time to act at all levels of government to commit ourselves to reduce carbon pollution to ensure future generations have a healthy, thriving planet. Governor O'Malley deserves credit for leading the way.

Carol M. Browner is a former Administrator of the EPA and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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