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Op-ed

A climate action plan for Maryland’s legislature | COMMENTARY

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to address our most critical long-term challenge: climate change. But the reality is that no matter what the final shape of the U.S. Senate turns out to be, the new president will need lots of help moving our nation toward clean energy at a speed fast enough to help save the planet. Given possible continued gridlock in Washington, the real action on climate may well continue to be at the state level.

In Maryland, the No. 1 climate priority for the General Assembly in 2021 should be passage of the Climate Solutions Now Act. This bill will sustain and accelerate our statewide commitment to end our use of fossil fuels and embrace wind, solar and other clean energy sources. The bill would require the state to cut its emissions by 60% percent by 2030 — an ambitious but achievable target.

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The Climate Solutions Now Act calls for a wide range of common-sense steps to get us there, including planting millions of trees, converting the state fleet to all-electric vehicles, requiring solar panels on some new buildings and strengthening building codes to improve energy efficiency.

Addressing climate change also requires fully committing to racial equity. Black and Hispanic communities — from Brandywine to Baltimore City — are too often hit the hardest by the impacts of our over-reliance on fossil fuel energy. For residents there, this is a matter of life or death.

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We must embrace solutions that provide new resources for low-income and Black communities that have suffered the most from environmental hazards like power plants. These communities suffer from far worse public health outcomes (which are exacerbated by COVID), and it’s time we make real investments to begin to address them.

Proposals to advance clean energy and address climate change are enormously popular with Marylanders, who understand the benefits of creating a greener economy. The General Assembly should stand with the people and make sure the Climate Solutions Now Act becomes law.

The evidence of climate change is readily apparent. In 2020, we had a record-breaking number of tropical storms hit the United States. The city of New Orleans alone experienced the destructive force of no fewer than eight storms this season, and we continue to witness a rise in sea level.

Out west, wildfires have burned millions of acres and taken more lives, due to rising temperatures and drought conditions associated with climate change. Earth is sounding the alarm.

In Maryland, we’re seeing more frequent episodes of higher and more catastrophic flooding. Annapolis had 18 days of high-tide flooding from May 2019 to April 2020, a record, according to NOAA, leaving some streets unpassable and disrupting lives and commerce. Baltimore City’s harbor areas now regularly flood, a clear sign that sea levels are creeping steadily higher. In Ellicott City, flash floods have killed people and destroyed lives and businesses. And, on the Eastern Shore, increasingly more acreage, including our prized farm land, is experiencing salt water intrusion that threatens crops.

Federal action is long overdue. Along with mounting an effective federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Biden administration can take the country back into the Paris Climate Accord, recommitting America to lead the global response to climate change. Even without a cooperative Congress, the new president can also take executive action to encourage higher fuel-efficiency standards, establish stronger energy-efficiency standards for buildings and prohibit oil and gas drilling on public lands.

But we can’t wait for progress in Washington. This is a matter of global urgency, and we must act quickly and forcefully to stave off the dire consequences of continued climate change. Let’s do our part in Maryland in the months ahead.

Paul G. Pinsky (Paul.Pinsky@senate.state.md.us) is the chair of the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Mike Tidwell (mtidwell@chesapeakeclimate.org) is founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Staci Hartwell (srhconsulting@gmail.com) is co-chair for Environmental and Climate Justice with the NAACP Maryland State Conference.


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