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Maryland, eight other states and D.C. agree to work to curb transportation emissions

Maryland has joined in forming a coalition of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia that plans to impose regional limits on carbon emissions from cars, trucks, buses and other transportation modes.

The goal of the landmark agreement, announced Tuesday, is to create “a regional low-carbon transportation policy proposal that would cap and reduce carbon emissions from the combustion of transportation fuels.” The group, known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative says it plans to develop what it called “a cap-and-invest program.”

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The group said emissions from transportation sources account for the largest portion of the region's carbon pollution. The agreement is in part a recognition of the role that transportation plays in the release of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The states will work to draft a more detailed plan within a year. At that time each state will decide whether to formally adopt the policy. Money raised through the program would go toward developing low-carbon and more resilient transportation infrastructure — from bike lanes to public transit to zero-emission vehicles.

The agreement was endorsed by Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the state is “committed to making progress on combating climate change and to exploring innovative solutions to our environmental challenges.”

A joint statement released by the states and D.C. says they will work together to decide key elements of a final deal including: the level at which to cap emissions; monitoring and reporting guidelines to ensure a decline in emissions over time; shared priorities for investment of proceeds, and clear timelines for putting a final deal in place.

The deal, if finalized, would be modeled after the nine-state regional "cap-and-invest" system for power plant emission known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

That initiative, established in 2005, holds regular auctions through which power plants pay for emissions allowances, money that is invested in energy efficiency improvements.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the transportation emissions agreement reflects the urgency of the challenges posed by carbon emissions.

"Do not be fooled by the climate change deniers in Washington, climate change is real and if we do not take significant action now to reduce carbon emissions the harm to our economy, communities, and the planet will be irrevocable," Malloy said in the news release.

Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said the state has taken steps to address the release of greenhouse gases, but said more work needs to be done and "the transportation sector is key to reducing carbon emissions."

Not everyone embraced the agreement.

Christopher Carlozzi, the Massachusetts state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, called the agreement "a fiscally dangerous and regressive proposal."

"Thousands of businesses and commuters in the commonwealth will incur higher expenses — not only directly at the pump but also indirectly for a wide array of goods and services as the impact of new gas fees ripples through the economy," Carlozzi said in a press release.

Other critics, including Massachusetts state Sen. Mike Barrett, said the agreement isn't aggressive enough and "puts the most hesitant states in the driver's seat."

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"The governors are, in effect, asking for a one-year timeout on addressing emissions from transportation," Barrett said. "Given the urgency of the problem, that's a big ask."

Environmental groups hailed the agreement.

"As climate pollution rises, it's more important than ever that state leaders take action to address climate change," Sierra Club regional director Mark Kresowik said in a statement. "Developing a modern, clean transportation system by expanding access to electric vehicles, public transit, and walkable and bikeable communities will save lives, create new jobs, and help people get where they're going faster."

Ramon Palencia-Calvo, director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ Chispa Maryland program, said the initiative could especially help address inequality in transportation options and in exposure to harmful air pollutants.

"This is an exciting time to design a transportation system that is clean, sustainable, and equitable, and benefits all Marylanders,” Palencia-Calvo said. “Low income communities and communities of color suffer disproportionately from air pollution that increases the risk of asthma, heart disease, infant mortality, and cancer in these communities. The opportunity of addressing these inequalities while providing transportation solutions will greatly improve the quality of life in these communities.”

The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

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