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The clock is ticking for Maryland to address climate change

The clock is ticking for Maryland to address climate change
Solar panels line the roof of Ikea's Brooklyn store in New York. In Maryland, state lawmakers are debating whether to require utilities to purchase more of their power from renewable sources like solar in the future.

Just a few blocks from the Maryland State House is the City Dock in Annapolis, which is famous for its oversized boats (hence the nickname “ego alley”), a statue of the most famous slave to arrive there and his descendant biographer (the Kunte-Kinte/Alex Haley Memorial) — and floods that wreak havoc on the popular shops and restaurants that surround it. High-tide flooding at City Dock has become so common (an estimated 62 incidents in 2017 alone) that merchants believe climate change is increasingly driving customers away, and they have the receipts to show it.

That’s not some theoretical impact of rising greenhouse gas levels. It’s not some prediction of problems decades-hence. It’s just one of the more obvious circumstances that Maryland is dealing with as the planet warms. And the numbers are glaring: Between 1957 and 1963, Annapolis averaged slightly under four floods a year. From 2007 to 2013, the city witnessed about 39 per year, or 10 times more flooding than a half-century earlier.

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Of course, if the worst thing about climate change were nuisance flooding around City Dock, the solution might be as simple as to build a sea wall, but, of course, the issue is far bigger, more costly — and, frankly, scarier — than that. Sea level rise threatens much of Maryland, but so do increased storm surge, more severe weather, worsened disease outbreaks (as ticks and other carriers more easily overwinter), diminished fresh water drinking supplies, shrinking productive farmland, and on and on. President Donald Trump may believe climate change is a hoax, but the science of how man-made greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically warming the planet is well established. The core scientific debate is not centered on if, it’s about when and how bad.

That’s why one of the most important bills pending before the Maryland General Assembly this session is the Clean Energy Jobs Act. It would increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, (translation: how much electricity is generated from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels like coal) from 25 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030. The facts that climate change hasn’t happened overnight and that addressing the problem will take years aren’t excuses to delay. They’re actually reasons to move forward with great haste. The window to make a difference is closing.

Now, it appears the Clean Energy Jobs Act, despite broad support in the legislature, could be stalled in the House of Delegates. The apparent reason? An already-crowded agenda and a desire to wait for a $1 million study on RPS commissioned last year but not expected to be completed until December are the primary explanations. The General Assembly passed the 25 percent RPS standard just three years ago and then overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto in 2017. So why the rush?

The Maryland House of Delegates voted to override Governor Hogan's veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016. The vote was 88-51. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

The problem is that, to use a sports analogy, climate change is already late in the fourth quarter, and the home team is behind. Maryland is just one state, of course, and it’s going to take a far broader, global effort to address the problem. But that won’t happen unless action takes place at the local level. Other states are on the same path. It’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff. Today, California has already achieved the 33 percent RPS mark. The District of Columbia, our next-door neighbor, has adopted a 100 percent goal, and it’s not alone: California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Vermont have aimed for at least 50 percent, too.

Further delay is not only unhelpful, it’s unnecessary. RPS goals can always be amended down the road. Meanwhile, Maryland is losing jobs in the renewable energy sector because demand isn’t what it should be. Officials estimate the solar industry lost 800 jobs in Maryland over the last year. In a Feb. 19 letter to lawmakers, Donald Boesch, president emeritus of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and nine other Maryland climate scientists called for passage of the Clean Energy Jobs bill this year. Their argument? That "one of the most affluent and best-educated states in the most powerful nation on Earth … has an obligation to lead."

Amen. Given what’s happening in Washington from an administration willing to roll back so many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and open up more land and ocean to oil and natural gas drilling (not to mention the ridicule Republicans heap on those who would advocate a “greener” energy future), we can’t envision too many more vital, or timely, efforts to protect our children’s future.

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