Md. governor calls for more ambitious state renewable energy standard

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 29, 2013

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley released one of the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plans in the country yesterday, calling for an increase in the state renewable standard and a boost to clean car and “zero waste” initiatives.

In a speech at the Maritime Institute, the Democratic governor said that climate change is already affecting the state, considering that 13 islands in the Chesapeake Bay no longer exist, and more than 100 state residents have lost their lives over the past decade because of extreme weather. The unveiled plan aims to ensure that greenhouse gas levels fall 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020 — a target that places Maryland just behind California with the toughest greenhouse gas reduction law on the books.

“Climate disruption is real. It is not an ideological issue any more than gravity is,” said O’Malley, who will leave office in 2015 because of term limits. The revised plan was necessary, he said, since existing policies leave the state short in its goals and able to cut emissions by roughly 18 percent by 2020.

The blueprint calls for the state renewable standard to be raised to 25 percent renewable power by 2020, up from 20 percent by 2022. It also calls for carbon-emitting “black liquor” — a byproduct of producing paper — to be removed as an eligible fuel source under the standard.

Additional policies include increasing statewide recycling rates to 60 percent so that greenhouse gases don’t seep from landfills, strengthening a state program reducing per-capita electricity consumption, public transit expansion, and full implementation of a tighter carbon cap through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regionwide carbon trading system in the Northeast.

In February, the regional cap-and-trade program lowered its emissions cap by almost half. Rules implementing that change in Maryland would be put in place as early as next week, said Samantha Kappalman, director of communications at the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Maryland has a ripe political culture for aggressive climate laws. O’Malley’s party controls the Legislature, and public opinion polls show that residents support emission-cutting measures.

Preaching to the choir?

More than half of Marylanders, for example, said in a survey that people are already being harmed by climate change, a figure that is about 20 percentage points higher than the national percentage, according to data from George Mason University this month.

Even so, there is no guarantee that there will be actual changes to the state renewable standard. “We don’t have a timeline of when [renewable standard legislation] will be introduced,” Kappalman said. The Legislature has recessed for the year but will reconvene in January.

“There will be some push-back,” one environmentalist said about the prospect for changing the renewable mandate.

State Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Government Affairs Deriece Pate Bennett said her organization does not yet have a formal position on O’Malley’s plan but said there are “concerns” about potential costs of the greenhouse gas framework in general.

Earlier this year, a legislative attempt to remove “black liquor” as eligible under the renewable standard fell short of a couple of votes in the state Legislature. Opponents of the idea included United Steelworkers members and employees of a Luke, Md., paper manufacturing facility, who said the pulping liquor byproduct used as fuel would otherwise go into a landfill, causing the facility to turn to coal out of cost concerns.

Supporters of taking pulping liquor out of the state standard say that there is only one operating paper mill in Maryland and that the state renewable credits could be better used on wind and solar than on “tar-like” black liquor. They also say the former state bill would have protected the Maryland plant’s jobs.

The debate is one segment of the greenhouse gas plan but underscores the challenge with its full implementation. Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said that a change to the overall percentages of the renewable standard has fewer “political challenges” than changing the fuel source mix in the standard.

“It can take several years” for energy laws to pass in Maryland, Brock-Cancellieri said.

Many of the measures in the plan, however, can be implemented via executive authority. O’Malley also used his executive order authority in January by requiring new and rebuilt state structures to consider climate change and rising sea levels with construction plans (ClimateWire, Jan. 7, 2013).