Job Preservation Comes First in Maryland Climate Bill

The last time Gov. Martin O'Malley tried to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland, steelworkers from the sprawling Sparrow's Point mill poured into the statehouse to protest. Union leaders and industry lobbyists cornered their senators, arguing that the legislation would put thousands of jobs in jeopardy, and they succeeding in killing the 2008 bill.

On Friday, O'Malley announced a new plan for GHG targets. This time, the legislation puts economic concerns first and it gives the manufacturing industry a seven-year pass.

That might not be ideal, but it's probably the best Maryland's climate advocates can get in this economy. Officials say the legislation was a compromise that included industry and environmental groups including Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Environment Maryland, Sierra Club, and Clean Water Action. As O'Malley put it:

For our prosperity, for our current and future generations, and for the health of our state, which is so vulnerable to rising sea levels, we must take action on climate change now—not later. Maryland can't afford to be left behind.

The proposed Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009 would require Maryland to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020. That equates to a 4 percent drop from Maryland's 1990 levels.

The state is already on pace to get halfway to that mark through recent laws that regulate power plant and auto emissions, order a reduction in energy consumption by 15% percent by 2015, and strengthen the state's renewable energy portfolio. To finish the sprint, the new legislation would order the Maryland Department of Environment to come up with a raft of GHG-reducing regulations and programs by 2012. The MDE's primary targets will be the transportation and energy sectors, which account for about 70 percent of the state's GHG emissions. However, the legislation ties the department's hands in the realm of industry by exempting manufacturers from new state regulations until at least 2016.

Manufacturers (accounting for about 4 percent of the state's GHG emissions) would still be regulated by any new federal legislation or anything implemented by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the 10-state Northeast and Mid-Atlantic cap-and-trade system.

MDE spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus noted one compelling argument against stricter state requirements for manufacturers in Maryland is that they would put the state's manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage compared to neighboring states, and that could have detrimental effects on the Maryland economy. A strong federal carbon cap is necessary to created a level playing for industries and workers nationwide, added Chesapeake Climate Action Network spokeswoman Anne Havemann:

Maryland can take a big step by passing this bill, but our one state can only do so much. After the passage of this bill, we'll be setting our sights on Washington and look forward to working with Maryland's influential federal leaders to champion much-needed climate legislation.

The Maryland bill specifies that new regulations related to GHG reduction must ensure no loss of manufacturing jobs, a net economic benefit to the state economy, and no adverse impact on the reliability or affordability of electricity and fuel. Maryland officials don't expect that to be a problem. The MDE anticipates that the transition to a low carbon economy could be a $2 billion boon to the state through energy efficiency, conservation and new green jobs by 2020. A study by the International Center for Sustainable Development estimated the state's plan could create between 144,000 and 326,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network declared O'Malley a "clean energy hero" for the new legislation. Environmental strategist Terry Tamminen, who advises California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on climate issues, also praised Maryland officials for their effort:

Kudos to Governor O'Malley, Senator [Paul] Pinskey, and the others in Maryland who can see the environmental and economic benefits of tackling the climate change challenge —and are seizing that opportunity today. Our planet and our pocketbooks thank you!

In addition to dropping requirements for manufacturers, another element missing from this year's legislation is a long-term GHG reduction goal. The Maryland Commission on Climate Change recommends the state reduce emissions 90 percent below its 2006 levels by 2050. The bill that failed in 2008 had included that number; the current legislation does not, but MDE officials say the 2020 goal will put Maryland on pace to meet that long-term vision.

So how does Maryland's proposed target stack up to other states' official targets for 2020?

  • Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont set targets of lowering their GHG emissions to 10 percent below their 1990s levels by 2020. New York's state energy plan recommends the same target.
  • California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Washington set targets of reaching their 1990 levels by 2020.
  • New Mexico's goal is 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020.
  • Arizona's goal is to fall back to 2000 levels by 2020.
  • Colorado's governor set a goal of 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
  • Florida doesn't have a 2020 goal, but its goal for 2017 is to reach 2000 levels and then fall to 1990 levels by 2025.
  • Minnesota also has no 2020 goal, but it set goals for 2015 of 15 percent below 2005 levels and then 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • Virginia's mid-term goal is 30 percent below businesses as usual by 2025.

Maryland's low-lying coastal regions are already feeling the effects of climate change. The state saw a 1-foot rise in sea level over the past century, and it could see another 1-foot rise by mid-century, according to 2008 study from the Commission on Climate Change. The commission came up with 42 recommendations for cutting emissions and increasing energy efficiency and conservation that it hopes the government will follow.

"Maryland, with its 3,100 miles of shoreline, is directly threatened by rising sea levels and flooding caused by global warming," said state Delegate Kumar Barve, a sponsor of the Maryland climate change legislation. "We have the technological ability to clean up our air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and move to a future free of foreign energy dependence. We cannot afford any more delay."

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