Yes, you read that headline correctly. In Maryland, a Republican Governor and a Democrat-controlled General Assembly worked together to enact the 2016 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act. This legislation commits our state to a jaw-dropping 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. Other states should follow because we’re running out of time. The big question now: How will Maryland achieve the reductions?
Maryland is a Climate Leader
In 2009, Maryland took a major step in addressing climate change. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) committed Maryland to cut collective greenhouse gases (GHG are mostly carbon dioxide CO2 and methane) by 25 percent by 2020. This legislation mobilized our state agencies to calculate, track, and implement hundreds of programs to lower energy use and/or increase clean energy (solar/wind/geothermal). Maryland is on track to achieve a 25 percent cut, even surpass it a bit.
But, according to the Md. Department of the Environment (MDE), two “market” factors are helping us hit the 25 percent GHG cut: electricity power plants switched from coal to natural gas, and and we all drove our vehicles less due to the recession.
Yet, Maryland deserves a high-five as we’re well ahead of other states in tackling climate change. This year, Maryland’s General Assembly passed an updated GGRA which Governor Hogan signed into law. The updated GGRA legislation increases the state’s commitment to a 40 percent GHG reduction in just 14 years. Unlike Florida, Maryland has accepted climate change. Better yet, we’re not one of 24 states suing the EPA to stop Obama’s Clean Power Plan (cuts a state’s CO2 by 30 percent), we’re trying to solve the problem.
The planet’s health? It ain’t looking good.
It’s too bad a big chunk of the country is holding on to outdated, fossil-fueled energy systems because climate change is rearing its ugly head today.
The impact of the chart above is felt everywhere. 2015 was the planet’s hottest year ever recorded. Our oceans have been sucking up extra heat. The polar ice caps are collapsing, and faster. Not only did the world’s level of CO2 surpass 400 parts per million last year, levels spiked last month to 405 p.p.m. Scientists calculate that 450 p.p.b. CO2 in our atmosphere translates to a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius; the point at which our planet will exit this climate for another unknown climate. For a baseline, the planet’s CO2 levels hovered around 280 until the industrial revolution. The droughts, storms, and fires, as well as the stress on food and water supplies, have started. Unfortunately, climate change, or disruption really, is happening now. Yet, solutions are also happening, and Maryland’s 2016 Green House Gas Reduction Act is a big step in our state’s push for solutions.
What’s Next? Devil’s in the Details.
An important bill is sitting on Governor Hogan’s desk waiting for signature. The main goal of the Clean Energy Jobs Act — which was amended during the legislative process to be a study, not a state-mandated investment — is to ensure that by 2020, 25 percent of Maryland’s electricity comes from emission-free wind or solar energy. This bill forces utilities to buy renewable energy. Maryland’s five utilities buy electricity from suppliers (60 percent in state, 40 percent out-of-state) who use different fuel sources (coal, gas, wind, solar, nuclear).
This is where climate change policy gets tricky. If, as stated in Paris, our world is going to collectively reduce greenhouse gases, the real path is to build more renewable energy. And we are. Over the next three years, renewable energy will account for one-third of new U.S. electricity generation.
But for all the older power plants out there, many are switching their fuel from coal to natural gas. Half of Maryland’s electricity is created by burning coal, the other half is generated at nuclear power plants. Coal is polluting and is a main source of GHG. Twenty percent of Marylanders think oil is burned for electricity. Thirty percent have no idea what fuels electricity. Oil is turned into vehicle fuel (gas and diesel), and heating fuel. Natural gas is slowly replacing coal as a power plant fuel. Natural gas heats most buildings, too.
Though natural gas was touted as the bridge fuel because it burns less CO2, the system to drill and store the natural gas leaks too much methane. The climate benefits of natural gas when compared to coal just aren’t there when the fracking’s methane leakage is added into the equation. The Clean Energy Jobs Act is designed to make sure Maryland does its part by sourcing renewable energy, not just natural gas fueled electricity.