Maryland Democrats, environment and health advocates call on EPA to maintain Obama-era emissions goals

After President Donald Trump’s administration said this fall it would repeal a set of goals to cut power plant emissions across the country, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked the EPA to hold a hearing on the potential impacts of that decision in the state.

The Environmental Protection Agency responded that Marylanders could join a hearing in West Virginia.


So on Thursday, Frosh and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly gathered environmental, health and community advocates to listen to their concerns about the repeal — and forward them on to the EPA.

“We’re here this afternoon because we believe Marylanders have an important story to tell about clean power and about climate change,” said Frosh, a Democrat.


Scientists explained that if power plant emissions are not checked, Maryland will be vulnerable to rising sea levels, extreme storms and setbacks in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

“The science is increasingly clear and compelling,” said Donald Boesch, who served as president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science for 27 years until this fall.

Doug Myers, Maryland senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said plant emissions harm the Chesapeake by depositing nitrogen and carbon dioxide into waters, contributing to an excess of nutrients and acidifying waters. Both conditions throw off bay ecology.

And health experts warned that the plan, adopted by former President Barack Obama’s administration in 2015, was key in improving air quality and protecting lungs in Maryland, where much of air pollution blows in from other states.

“Revoking the Clean Power Plan gives power plants a license to pollute,” said Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. That pollution will translate to increased health costs and premature deaths, he said. “Repeal even encourages them to increase that burden on the public.”

The plan would push states to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by about a third below 2005 levels by 2030. Maryland is already on track to meet and possibly exceed the goal, because of its own renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction policies.

But House Speaker Michael Busch said that if EPA fails to hold other states to similar efforts, Maryland’s progress will be put at risk.

“What’s taking place in Washington, D.C., has an adverse effect on everything we’ve tried to do on the environment in the last couple decades,” Busch said.


Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the state is “in a war” with the Trump administration over its environmental initiatives, also criticizing Trump’s recent move toward opening waters off the coast of Maryland and around the country to oil and gas drilling.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration did not participate in Thursday’s hearing, but days earlier sent a letter to EPA formally lodging its opposition to the Clean Power Plan repeal.

An EPA spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, gave one of the more impassioned pleas to preserve the emissions plan. He said that with a majority of black Americans living within 30 miles of coal power plants, they faced outsized risks of death by asthma, cancers or emphysema.

“Clean air and clean water are a right and not an option,” he said. “We are not only fighting for equality — we are fighting for existence.”