Plan finds state on track to reduce greenhouse gases

Maryland is largely on track to meet its goal of reducing climate-warming pollution 25 percent by the end of the decade, according to O'Malley administration officials, but still needs legislation being debated in Annapolis to put wind turbines off Ocean City, limit sprawl and increase funding for mass transit.

A draft plan developed by the Maryland Department of the Environment and to be released Wednesday says the state has nearly all the measures in place to comply with a 2009 law requiring curbs on the state's emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases."

The effort should create jobs in the process rather than hurt the economy, the plan says, and it will have the side benefit of improving air quality and helping restore the Chesapeake Bay.

"I think everyone was real worried that we were going to have to do really crazy stuff to get to the law's requirements," said George S. "Tad" Aburn Jr., the MDE's air management director, "but a lot of stuff we're already doing."

The blueprint, which the state must finalize by year's end, lays out 65 laws, regulations and programs that collectively should slightly exceed the 25 percent reduction called for. Most were adopted or launched in the past five years, such as Maryland's participation with other northeastern states in regulating power plants' carbon dioxide emissions.

But to reach the 2020 goal, the plan identifies as "priorities" pending administration bills to boost offshore wind energy projects, reduce sprawl development on septic systems and raise funding for transit through a gas tax increase. Should those fail to pass — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called the septic bill's prospects "dicey" on Tuesday — Aburn said officials would have to come up with alternatives to close any gap.

A preliminary analysis by researchers with Towson University and the University of Maryland indicates the greenhouse-gas effort will create about 36,000 jobs and boost the state's economy by $6.1 billion, according to the plan. That finding is key, as lawmakers had insisted that state officials show curbing carbon dioxide will yield a net economic benefit before going through with any plan.

New jobs are projected from developing wind and other green energy projects, while consumers and businesses are expected to save money through energy efficiency and conservation efforts. But Aburn said more analysis is due by year's end to pin down the law's impact, particularly on electricity and fuel prices.

The law exempts manufacturers from having to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions — one of the compromises worked out to get the measure passed in Annapolis after two years of debate. Legislators also inserted a stipulation that they must vote again in 2015 to continue the effort.

National greenhouse-gas legislation died in Congress a few years ago amid debate over its economic impact and the science showing human activities are altering the planet's climate. While Maryland's actions would have negligible impact on the warming of the planet, Aburn said, the state is committed to doing its part and demonstrating that greenhouse gases can be reduced without damaging the economy.

Since the law was passed, said Donald F. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, research and measurements have not only reaffirmed the science behind climate change but shown that the planet may be warming faster and sea levels rising more than previously projected. Maryland, which officials say is one of the nation's most vulnerable states because of its long coastline, could see waters rising 3 to 4 feet by the end of the century, he said.

"There's just more evidence and more reason to be concerned about the rate of change and the consequences," Boesch said.