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Md. should pave the way for clean transportation in the region

Hogan announces $50 million signal upgrade on Maryland highways to improve traffic flow. (Michael Dresser / Baltimore Sun video)

One of the most congested parts of the United States is the greater Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area. Traffic and population density is so intense in some parts of this vast metropolitan area that it is known as one of the half dozen or so major “megalopolis” areas in the nation. Pollution — including climate-altering carbon emissions — can be every bit as intense here at times as it is in Los Angeles or Dallas or Chicago.

The good news is that we can do something about all that traffic and smog by modernizing our transportation system, with the help of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

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Here’s where things stand now: In January, Maryland joined the U.S. Climate Alliance — a bipartisan coalition of 15 states committed to upholding the objectives of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. While some accused Governor Hogan of being late to the party, there are many indications of his willingness cut carbon pollution in significant ways. His recent commitment to developing a cleaner transportation system is one of them.

Governor Hogan signed Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act in 2016, which requires the state to cut its emissions by 40 percent by 2030. In order to meet this goal, Maryland will need to clean-up and modernize more than just its power plants. “On road sources” — cars and trucks primarily — account for roughly one third of greenhouse gas emissions statewide. That’s why Maryland recently joined a regional pledge to collaborate with stakeholders to create a new regional clean transportation system.

Implementing a modernized clean transportation system is vital for Maryland. Sure, it’s an enormous challenge, but our state has already rolled up its sleeves and done the hard work on innovative policies to reduce emissions while improving the economy. Maryland played an integral role in launching the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first multi-state program to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

As of September, Maryland had received $573 million in cumulative proceeds from RGGI. Proceeds have improved energy efficiency programs for residents and businesses, supported renewable energy for households across the state and saved an estimated $457 million in lifetime energy bill savings, with even more savings expected in future years.

The RGGI cap-and-invest model in Maryland has helped cut emissions from the state’s power plants by more than 60 percent since 2008, while driving $2.9 billion in regional economic growth and creating more than 30,000 years of full-time employment. Sierra Club research shows that RGGI has helped Maryland outpace the rest of the country in both emissions reductions and economic growth. In addition, RGGI-driven emissions reductions have resulted in $5.7 billion in avoided health costs across the region. In Maryland, the program has led to fewer asthma attacks, hospital admissions and premature deaths from pollution.

What will it take to get from here to where we need to be on clean transportation in Maryland?

Governor Hogan’s $9 billion Traffic Relief Plan to widen three of the state’s most heavily trafficked highways: I-270, I-495 (the Capital Beltway) and MD-295 (the Baltimore-Washington Parkway) has many calling for a greater emphasis on public transportation, including light rail. Still, Maryland is way ahead of the game, in terms of electric vehicle infrastructure, and many believe that a RGGI-like program will simply accelerating the adoption of clean transportation solutions that are already in play.

Specifically, Maryland could soon have the second largest EV charging network in the country, with 24,000 charging stations. The Maryland Public Service Commission is currently deliberating on a January 2018 filing that proposes the creation of a “Statewide Electric Vehicle Portfolio." The program brings together big utilities BGE, Delmarva Power & Light and Pepco with environmental groups such as Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, and EV-charging companies like Greenlots and ChargePoint.

This leadership in electric vehicle infrastructure has to be coupled with real solutions that also protect the health of Maryland’s most vulnerable residents. Governor Hogan’s administration now has an unprecedented opportunity. With more than $75 Million from the Volkswagen Fund, Maryland can accelerate the transition to clean vehicles, including more than 7,000 dirty diesel school buses, to clean electric school buses. Innovative solutions like this will protect the health of the more than 623,000 school children who are exposed to diesel fumes from school buses. At the same time, it will help catalyze new markets for electric school buses, driving down costs and making them more affordable for school districts in the long-term.

Many options are readily available and some already are in development to reduce carbon pollution from on road sources and increase transportation access while benefiting the economy, and Maryland is well-positioned to take the lead on a regional clean transportation initiative. In addition to spurring job creation and the public health benefits, clean transportation would have a dramatic impact on reducing climate change. Governor Hogan’s pledge to develop a regional clean transportation plan must be embraced and advanced as quickly as possible.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo (rpcalvo@mdlcv.org) is director of Chispa Maryland, a program of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

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