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Baltimore veterans center touted as example of energy efficiency program's success

Environmental advocates who want Gov. Larry Hogan to support stronger carbon emissions cuts hosted an event at a veterans training center in Baltimore to tout the benefits.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a joint effort among nine states including Maryland, calls for emissions to be reduced by 2.5 percent per year through 2020.

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Fossil fuel power plants and others that release greenhouse gases in those states must buy allowances for carbon emissions. The money earned from those sales is used to support energy efficiency improvements at facilities such as the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training.

While the states review the regulations, advocates are pushing the group to double the emissions reduction requirement to 5 percent per year.

"With not much happening at the federal level, it's up to the states to show leadership on this," said Morgan Folger, the climate campaign organizer for Environment Maryland. "Because the program has already been so successful there's a lot of reason to strengthen it."

With the election of President Donald Trump, the federal government is changing its approach to the environment.

Trump on Wednesday announced a rollback of automobile fuel efficiency requirements established by President Barack Obama, and is expected to reverse other Obama-era policies, including restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants.

At the veterans center, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said it is important for the state to be a leader in demonstrating that the regional approach to carbon emissions is working, and encouraging more states to join the initiative. But he stopped short of saying he supported tightening the emissions reduction requirement.

"We're in the camp of helping lead all the states to agree on the right rules," Grumbles said. "One of our objectives is to make sure RGGI continues to deliver benefits for us environmentally and help reduce energy costs."

Power plants and others subject to the program have paid about $544 million into the state's Strategic Energy Investment Fund over the past six years. The fund, which is administered by the Maryland Energy Administration, awards grants for residential and community projects to promote energy efficiency.

The veterans center has benefited from grants that the community development organization Healthy Neighborhoods has received from the fund.

The Maryland Energy Administration has given $2.8 million in grants over the past three years to Healthy Neighborhoods. In 2014, The organization spent about $178,000 on improvements at the veterans center such as better wall insulation and solar film on windows.

Jeffery L. Kendrick, the center's executive director, estimated the improvements saved $42,000 in energy costs last year, which helped offset a $1.2 million reduction in federal funding.

"I've heard great talk about fossil fuel emissions, greenhouse gases and everything else — great terms. Guess what it means for me — where am I saving money?" Kendrick said. "Number one for me is how do I keep this building running, how do I keep it at full operation, how do I save?"

The center has space to provide housing for 249 homeless veterans. The average stay is between 12 and 15 months, but many people stay two years or longer.

The organization provides education and job training. It aims to help veterans return to the community with a job and permanent housing.

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