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Sarbanes, Ruppersberger talk climate change and Green New Deal in Baltimore County

At a town hall meeting in Towson on Thursday night, two Baltimore-area congressmen emphasized their commitment to fighting climate change now that Democrats have the majority in the House of Representatives.

More than 60 people attended the town hall in the Towson branch library to ask questions of Democratic Reps. John Sarbanes of District 3 and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of District 2. They told the congressmen that they want climate change addressed urgently.

“Nuclear war, climate change, those are the two things that could do away with all of us,” one man said.

Joe Garonzik, of Rodgers Forge, attended the meeting and said he wants a plan for action.

“People have to figure out how to address these problems,” he said. “To continue to try to sweep this problem under the rug is insane.”

Sarbanes and Ruppersberger each represent parts of Towson. Rep. Elijah Cummings was scheduled to attend but was unable to do so and a member of his staff attended instead.

Many of the public’s questions were about the Green New Deal, an ambitious climate resolution spearheaded by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sarbanes and Ruppersberger are both co-sponsors of the bill.

Ruppersberger, a self-described moderate Democrat, said he has gotten flak from more conservative constituents for co-sponsoring the bill and has been called a “socialist.” He was initially hesitant to sign on to the bill until he read a statement of support from Sarbanes and realized that, while details still need to be worked out, its goals — to curb greenhouse gas emissions, to secure jobs and access to food and health care — were things he supports.

“It’s nonbinding, but it’s a beginning,” Ruppersberger said. “It’s a plan, and we’d been stuck in the mud a long time.”

The congressmen also faced challenges from constituents. One man who identified himself as a member of progressive group Indivisible Baltimore, asked whether Ruppersberger would sign a pledge not to knowingly accept campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies. Sarbanes has already signed the pledge. But Ruppersberger said he will not; though he maintains energy companies do not affect his decision-making, he said in a competitive district like his he will not risk losing campaign dollars.

“If you don't raise money, you can't be in the game,” Ruppersberger said.

Some questions were not about the Democrats’ positions, but about how to get Republicans on board with addressing climate change. Sarbanes said he hopes with Democrats in the majority in the House, they will be able to hold hearings and invite witnesses that convince Republicans to work with them to take action.

“Now that we're in the majority, we can actually have hearings and bring forth witnesses that hopefully can be compelling to both Democrats and Republicans, and we can find our way to agreement on some serious legislation,” Sarbanes said.

House Democrats are already introducing climate change legislation. On Wednesday, House Democrats introduced the Climate Action Now Act, a bill aimed at keeping the United States in the Paris Agreement, an international agreement to combat climate change. Cummings, Ruppersberger and Sarbanes are all co-sponsors.

Sarbanes said he also expects bipartisan cooperation on restoring funding to the Chesapeake Bay, which President Donald Trump wants to cut by 90 percent.

Sarbanes also plans to focus on putting pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory functions, which he said have been weakened under the Trump administration.

“The first order of business is to let them know that they’re being watched now,” Sarbanes said. “And if their agenda is out of sync with what the public wants to see, and clearly it is, that they’re going to start feeling some real pressure.”

asolomon@baltsun.com

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