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Setting higher standards

Will Maryland's Republican governor lead the charge on climate change?

In 2008, Gov. Martin O'Malley asked the Maryland General Assembly to approve legislation that would lead to a dramatic cut in Maryland greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Lawmakers balked. A coalition of Republicans, business leaders, union officials and the power industry succeeded in killing the bill — only to see a more modest version pass the following year.

Even then, Republicans and taxpayer groups weren't happy with the revised goal — a 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2020. A "job-killer" some decried. A "hidden tax" is how the House's top Republican described the measure during the floor debate. Critics thought the governor had made a pie-in-the-sky promise that he couldn't possibly keep.

Last week, the bipartisan commission first established by Mr. O'Malley eight years ago reviewed where Maryland stands in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and came to a conclusion that would surely have startled anyone who witnessed the 2007 debate: Maryland is not only on track to meet or exceed that 25 percent reduction, it has done so not by killing jobs but by creating them.

Further, members of the Maryland Climate Change Commission decided it's time for the state to set its goals much higher. The group voted unanimously to recommend that a new goal be established — a 40 percent reduction by 2030. That would put the state on track to meet the kind of 70-to-80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 that scientists believe will be necessary to blunt the worst effects of climate change and that Mr. O'Malley originally envisioned.

And here's the kicker. The commission is not only bipartisan, it's overwhelmingly composed of people appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, a pro-business Republican, and chaired by Environment Secretary Benjamin H. Grumbles. This is not a group dominated by environmental advocates but by a cross-section of Marylanders and members of the Hogan cabinet. And not one — not a single individual — opposed the 40 percent goal despite the fact that it would be among the most ambitious proposals of any state in the nation.

We have said it before and we'll say it again: Climate change is real, it's a serious problem and the U.S. and other nations must take action now to ward off the most devastating effects of this global threat. Get 26 rational people in a room, show them the research and demonstrate that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not only necessary but can be helpful to the economy, and this is the inevitable result.

Governor Hogan also deserves some credit. Like his actions this year to curb excess phosphorus from poultry manure that runs off farm fields into the Chesapeake Bay and to revise the stormwater remediation fee — even though he frequently derided it during his campaign for governor as a "rain tax" — have been commendable. He's not always on the side of environmentalists (his support for public transit, for instance, has underwhelmed), but he's with them far more often that his rain tax rhetoric could possibly have suggested.

The new goal must still be approved by Mr. Hogan and the legislature, but with such strong bipartisan support and its pro-economic expansion provision (the more stringent greenhouse gas goals must contribute to, and not detract from, job growth or else they will not be enforced), the likelihood of approval seems high. That the restrictions do not apply to existing manufacturing — in Maryland, that's a relatively minor contributor to greenhouse gases compared to such sources as power plants and cars — should also prove helpful in building a consensus.

Obviously, there are still many challenging issues related to climate change that Maryland's political leaders will have to tackle. It's one thing to set a goal, it's another to support programs that will achieve it, whether they involve tax credits, direct investments in renewable energy, conservation mandates or other hot-button issues. But the success of an effort launched in 2007 — when the year 2020 seemed a long way off — is reassuring: Maryland can dramatically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in a reasonable time frame and without sacrificing livelihoods. Pay attention, Republican candidates for president, denying basic science and ignoring the threat of climate change is not the path to economic prosperity. Taking appropriate action and investing in the future is.

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