Maryland misses deadline for climate action plan

State officials have missed their first major deadline for complying with a three-year-old law calling for Maryland to curb its emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases.

Under the 2009 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, the Department of the Environment was required to give the governor and lawmakers a draft plan by the end of 2011 for scaling back statewide releases of carbon dioxide, methane and other climate-affecting gases 25 percent by the end of the decade.


But Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers wrote Gov. Martin O'Malley and legislative leaders late last month that the draft plan would be "slightly delayed" until mid-February.

The letter didn't offer any explanation for missing the deadline. MDE spokesman Jay Apperson, when asked about the delay, repeated statements from the letter that MDE had been working hard to draft the climate-action blueprint in collaboration with 10 other state agencies, and that the document is essentially finished but undergoing "interagency review."

"It's a big job," Apperson said. "We want to make sure it's comprehesnive. We want to make sure it's right."

Summers letter says the plan lays out 65 strategies which "if fully implemented, we are confident will achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions required by law." Many of those are state and federal laws, regulations and programs already in place, such as the state's mandate to utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2022 and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional collaboration among northeastern states to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants.

In a nod to those worried that the effort could hurt the state's economy, lawmakers also required that the plan ensure no manufacturing job losses, a net increase in jobs overall and a net economic benefit to the state.

The law specifically exempts manufacturers from state regulation, a concession O'Malley administration officials made to neutralize industry and labor opposition that had blocked the law's adoption in 2008. A study done for the state has projected that development of "clean energy" industries could create 144,000 to 326,000 jobs in Maryland over the next 20 years and generate $5.7 billion in wages and salaries.

(The state's task of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions got unexpected - and to some, at least, unwelcome - help from the nation's sagging economy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that energy-related releases of carbon dioxide declined 7.4 percent nationwide from 2009 through 2009. They dropped by 8.4 percent in Maryland, according to the EIA, with much of the reduction coming since 2007.)

MDE had planned to spend this year taking public comment on the plan and tweaking it. The law requires that the blueprint be finalized by the end of 2012, so the time left for review and revision has been shortened by the delay. The agency is required to report again in 2015 on progress toward meeting the law's goals, and the General Assembly must vote in 2016 to continue the effort.

Maryland acted to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions at a time when Congress was considering national climate legislation. But those efforts faltered in 2010 amid fierce resistance from industry and Republicans. The Environmental Protection Agency took some preliminary steps toward mandating reductions via regulation, but has since held up further action for further review.

Environmental activists said they were disappointed but not terribly worried yet about the state's failure to produce its climate action plan on time.

"We remain optimistic that the plan is going to get done and we're going to make the reductions," said Mike Tidwell, head of Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "There's been nothing that's happened to make me, at least, feel that they've lost their commitment or will power to make these reduction targets."