speak up for the climate

June 25, 2012

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Storm surge flooding in Bowleys Quarters, MD, after Hurricane Isabel in September 2003//photo by Jason Cohen, via Wikipedia.

You’ve heard the predictions: rising temperatures, accelerated sea-level rise, stronger hurricanes, extreme droughts and heat waves. Scientists say climate change is happening, and happening faster than earlier models. Maryland has a draft plan to implement its Greenhouse Emission Reduction Act of 2009, which requires the reduction of emissions by 25 percent of 2006 levels by 2020. The plan, which according to the act must also create jobs and have a net positive effect on the economy,  includes 65 programs designed to reach these goals. The plan assumes full implementation of these programs to reach the target. If, for example, the General Assembly doesn’t approve funding for mass transit programs, the state “won’t meet the goal,” said Brian Hug, deputy manager of Air Quality Planning for the Department of the Environment, at one of six meetings held in the state about the plan. Similarly, the plan assumes  the state will pass an Offshore Wind Energy Act and be able to produce energy from offshore wind. The final plan is due in December, and the state Department of the Environment is accepting email comments and additional ideas until Aug. 17 at  climate@mde.state.md.us 

Several CCIHC members attended one or more of the meetings about the plan, and we brought up these points: 

  • The plan counts on heavier reliance on natural gas – either from Maryland or imported from other states. The costs of fracking to the environment, however, are not mentioned in the plan. Nor does the plan factor in the greenhouse gas emissions from the intense industrialization required in fracking (methane release, flaring and diesel trucking emissions). About half the emission reductions will come from  Maryland’s participation in the Regional Gas Initiative (RGGI) along with Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. RGGI is a cap-and-trade program that auctions carbon dioxide emission allowances, periodically lowers the cap in emissions allowed, and uses the funds raised in the auction for energy efficiency and other programs.  Pennsylvania is not a partner in RGGI  but exports a lot of coal to Maryland. Under the cap-and-trade program, Maryland will limit those coal imports, according to the plan.  But Pennsylvania is now producing natural gas from fracking, and Mr. Hug noted that the plan takes into account only the greenhouse gas emissions  created at the point of combustion in Maryland. If Pennsylvania fails to control methane releases during extraction, that has no bearing on how Maryland counts the emissions during combustion of the final product, even though methane is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  Comments are needed on this topic and on fracking in general. Trading one environmental disaster by creating another is a zero-sum game. 
  • The plan also notes that trash incineration is a so-called Tier 1 source for the state’s renewable energy portfolio even though, of the techniques for waste management,  it is “currently the greatest contributor to these emissions and is projected to remain that way for the foreseeable future.”   Incineration, or waste-to-energy, was reclassified as a Tier I source in 2011, putting it on a par with solar, geothermal, biomass and ocean energy.  Incinerators, however, provide an disincentive to recycle and compost. Incinerators also release dioxin, which is toxic to humans in minute quanties, so this is hardly a “green” energy source. Comments are needed on this topic; incinerators should not be considered a Tier 1 source of clean, renewable energy.
  • Although the state has developed a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the plan makes no mention of this valuable tool. This alternative to the traditional Gross Domestic Product places a dollar amount on such factors as air and water pollution, climate change, income inequality and loss of wetlands to come up with a more accurate accounting of economic activity. Comments supporting this index and its use to measure the costs of climate change are crucial. You can also learn more about the GPI Thursday, June 28, 6:30 p.m., at the Miller Library, 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City.   RSVP to transitionhoco@gmail.com.
 
  •  One  final point is that we need to support the plan and, if anything, ask whether it is strong enough. Maryland officials are planning seriously for the disruption from climate change and should be commended for that.  As a point of comparison, North Carolina has lately been trying to deny the effects of climate change. While the state was trying to devise policies to prepare for sea-level rise caused by climate change, an economic development group complained. Bowing to the pressure and perhaps thinking that they wouldn’t have to plan so much,  the legislators deleted dire predictions in a report prepared by the state’s Coastal Resources Commission, and the state Division of Emergency Management changed the projected worst-case sea-level rise to 15 inches  by 2100 instead of 1 meter (or 39 inches). Coastal communities thought the worst-case scenario would be bad for business. Perhaps true, but fudging the numbers probably won’t stem the rising tides. According to the Raleigh News & Observer,  Republican state legislators have also introduced legislation that requires the state to consider only historic levels rather than the accelerated sea-level rise predicted by scientists.   Virginia also commissioned a study of flooding and its coastline only after removing all mention of climate change, global warming and sea-level rise.

So it is worth noting that Maryland (at least the current administration) is not in denial about climate change and is taking steps toward a cleaner energy future. According to the Maryland’s GHG emission reduction report, this state can expect 2.7 to 3.4 feet of sea level rise over the next century:  “By the end of the century, an estimated 6.1% of Maryland’s 3,190 miles of coastline will be vulnerable to inundation from a 3.3-foot increase in sea-level.  With two feet of additional sea-level rise, 550 square miles of land could also be inundated at high tide, including the homes of over 60,000 people and 66 miles of roads. Maryland’s coastal zone encompasses two-thirds of the State’s land area and is home to almost 70% of its residents.” No whitewash there. 

So, please make your comments by Aug. 17 to  climate@mde.state.md.us 

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