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Md. lagging behind on climate action

A downtown Light Rail platform collapsed into the ground beneath it, two days into a mess of infrastructure failures that Baltimore officials warned is causing significant traffic and transit disruptions.

Last week, we witnessed flash floods barrel through the state, even opening a sink hole large enough to swallow a light rail station in downtown Baltimore. Despite warnings from the scientific community that these storms will become more frequent and the passage of bills like the Clean Energy Jobs Act, Maryland is lagging when it comes to comprehensive, ambitious climate action policies, programs and plans. With over 3,000 miles of coastline, and projections putting Baltimore under a foot and a half of water in 30 years, Maryland simply cannot wait to act on climate.

Over 70% of Marylanders want an increase in clean energy investments and to lead on climate nationally. That means we need to step up and act to phase out fossil fuels and increase clean energy investments immediately. When Gov. Larry Hogan allowed the Clean Energy Jobs Act to pass into law, he promised a plan to get the state to reach 100% clean electricity by 2040.

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That’s great, but we need the details, and, unfortunately, the Hogan administration has not even met its deadline to deliver a state-wide draft plan to fight climate change at all. So, let’s create it ourselves. Here is what the foundation of an ambitious and visionary climate action plan looks like for the next decade:

First, we need to move beyond coal. Believe it or not, Maryland still has six large coal plants that plan on operating indefinitely. Currently, 88% of Marylanders live in counties that have unsafe air according to EPA clean air standards in part because of these plants. Other states, like New York and Connecticut, are responsibly phasing out the dirty and uneconomic fuel source and embracing affordable, clean energy like wind and solar. The 21st century climate crisis facing our state cannot be solved while we rely on 19th and 20th century technology.

The MTA"s Light Rail, which opened up in 1992 alongside Camden Yards, turns 25 this year. (Baltimore Sun Photo Staff)

While we move beyond coal, we must replace it with clean energy, not falsely-labeled “natural” gas. Maryland has banned fracking because we know the harmful impact the extractive industry has on our health and environment. Yet the state is still pushing for the expanded importation and use of fracked gas. Building more fracked gas infrastructure locks us into decades of climate pollution and dirty air and water, and into an uncertain economic future in which gas will face a market similar to that of coal now. Our homes, businesses and future will be healthier and more climate-friendly when we get fossil fuels like fracked gas out of our buildings, communities and power plants.

As we pursue the above, we must work with and support families whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industry. Without planning for the fossil fuel transition, our workforce and communities will be left to the whim of corporate shareholders. We need to actively start conversations about moving beyond fossil fuels so that all communities — including those who have been historically underserved and heavily burdened by pollution — have a say in what a new energy economy looks like to them.

We also need to address transportation — the largest source of climate pollution in the state. Last year, Maryland announced its commitment to working with other neighboring states in the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) to develop a regional policy that would cap pollution from the transportation sector and invest in modern and climate friendly ways of traveling. We need to transform our communities into places with equitable and reliable access to public transit, biking and walking, and cars and buses powered by clean solar and wind energy. At the same time, we need to resist the deceptive “solutions” like expanding highways that will lock us in to even more transportation pollution.

Right now, Baltimore is projected to have 50-155 days of flooding even on sunny days in the next 30 years, which will devastate the ecosystem of the Chesapeake, degrade property values and potentially decimate the state’s tourism industry. However, if we look at our climate crisis as an opportunity for action, our possibilities are endless. We can put Marylanders to work and provide better access to economic opportunities in the clean energy economy. And all the while we will clean our air and water, making it easier to breathe and to protect state treasures like the Chesapeake Bay. Marylanders must come together and call on Governor Hogan and our other state leaders to put us on a true path beyond fossil fuels and into a prosperous clean energy economy.

David Smedick (david.smedick@mdsierra.org) is campaign and policy director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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