Md. governor must match environmental claims with actions

In the 1950s, City Dock in Annapolis flooded about five times per year. Now it floods 50 times per year,and scientists estimate that by 2030, that number will increase to 150. Baltimore faces the same situation. This increase in flooding is driven by climate change, the result of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. We must reduce carbon pollution now, so City Dock and Inner Harbor are here for our grandkids.

When Gov. Larry Hogan signed the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, he committed to reducing Maryland’s carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030. He recently reiterated this commitment when he explained that Maryland doesn’t need to join the 13-state Climate Alliance because our climate goal is more ambitious than the Paris Agreement.

Yet even as he touts the state’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions, Governor Hogan is risking an opportunity to make a real dent in Maryland’s carbon pollution.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a wildly successful “cap-and-invest” program administered by nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, including Maryland. In RGGI states, power companies pay for their greenhouse gas emissions, and the proceeds are invested to create jobs and cut costs for consumers. Between 2009 and 2014, RGGI reduced carbon emissions by 37 percent, created 30,000 jobs and generated $2.9 billion in economic value to the member states. RGGI also reduced air pollution, improving public health by lowering Maryland’s high rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease and pollution-related mortality.

This is a pivotal time for action. The governors of RGGI states are now negotiating the rules that will shape RGGI’s performance from 2020 to 2030. The big question is how deeply to cut emissions every year, and the decision is imminent. The most ambitious policy under consideration would result in region-wide greenhouse gas emissions that are nearly 20 percent lower than the weakest scenario under consideration.

If Governor Hogan wants to fulfill his climate promises and build a real environmental record, he must support the strongest emissions reduction possible through RGGI. Not only is this scenario the bare minimum required for Maryland to meet its 2030 climate goal — it’s the most economical way for us to do so.

Choosing a weak path forward for RGGI won’t do enough to curb the impacts of climate change on Maryland, it won’t get us to the 2030 climate goal that Governor Hogan claims to support, and it’s a huge missed opportunity to boost Maryland’s economy by strengthening a proven program.

The stakes are high for Maryland. Already, summer temperatures are increasing due to carbon pollution. Last year was the warmest year since 1884. Making things worse, the lack of green space can make cities up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surrounding countryside. As heat waves get hotter, Baltimore residents will suffer more than other Marylanders, with vulnerable urban families at particularly high risk. Climate change also increases risk and reduces profitability in agriculture. Maryland farmers are already seeing unprecedented variability in precipitation and temperature. Increasingly intense spring and fall rains can make planting and harvesting difficult, while soaring summer heat and drought damage crops. Without swift action and bold leadership, things in Maryland will only get worse.

It is cheaper to invest in climate solutions than it is to do nothing and face the economic consequences. In 2012 alone, disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy and the Midwest drought cost taxpayers $95 billion. But disasters are just one of the ways climate change hurts the economy, which explains why many Fortune 500 companies and Maryland businesses favor bold climate action.

Climate change solutions like RGGI make economic sense. The strongest scenario under consideration by the RGGI states will generate an estimated $3.2 billion more in revenue than the weaker option. These funds will be invested to reduce demand for dirty power, create jobs, and save Marylanders money in the long run. Furthermore, meeting the 2030 climate goal is expected to result in 50,000 new jobs in RGGI states each year. The negligible difference in electric rates between the RGGI plans being considered will be more than offset by reduced usage and RGGI’s proven economic, health and climate benefits.

Promises won’t reduce carbon pollution, and an environmental record can’t be built on words. Governor Hogan needs to take this opportunity to act on his commitment to protect our climate by supporting the strongest available plan for RGGI’s next ten years.

Sara Via (svia@umd.edu) is a professor and climate extension specialist at the University of Maryland and the co-lead of the Climate Health Action Team at Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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