SILVER SPRING – Following the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) and Gov. Larry Hogan’s release of his 2020 climate plan draft, 25 advocacy and community organizations wrote a letter denouncing the plan and calling for “stronger action.” The letter, delivered on Jan. 2, was signed by 25 organizations, including the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).
“We are concerned that our state is failing to respond to the urgency of the climate crisis,” the letter wrote.
The plan, called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, was released in October 2019, over nine months after it was due in December 2018. The deadline was set by the Greenhouse Gas Emission Act of 2016, which Hogan signed into law. It prompted 26 organizations to write a letter expressing “deep concerns” that the governor had yet to release its promised draft plan. But even after the release two weeks later, climate advocacy groups were less than thrilled.
“The globe is in the midst of an unprecedented climate crisis, caused by the unsafe and poorly-mitigated burning of fossil fuels,” the letter wrote. “As one of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Maryland has a responsibility to lead with more ambition and more aggressive pollution reduction plans and policies.”
The letter called for more “aggressive” and “robust” policy solutions. Notably, the 25 organizations wanted an electricity plan that would phase off coal power plants by 2030, be fully renewable by 2040 and reach net-zero emissions by 2045.
It also called for more detail s on the plan’s section on climate justice, in which climate solutions would also benefit minority communities and communities of color.
The 25 organizations and MDE encouraged the public to submit comments on the plan for review ahead of its finalization. While finalization was set for the end of 2019, given the near 10-month delay, there is currently no set date for a final draft.
The Center for Climate Strategies (CCS), an independent nonprofit that had helped MDE develop its climate plan in the past, reviewed the 2019 plan at the request of the CCAN and ClimateXChange, another organization that signed the letter. On Dec. 19, CCS reported a “relatively low level of confidence that proposed actions would meet Maryland’s 2030 goal.”
In their review, CCS determined that the plan had an overwhelming amount of weaknesses, most notably that its target emissions for 2030 “relies on flawed analysis” and makes a number of assumptions about current federal policy, Maryland’s 2017 gas emission inventory and the future of the electric vehicle market.
The CCS report also highlighted the plan’s complete disregard for a pathway through 2040 and 2050, which would meet larger climate stabilization goals for the globe.
The governor’s plan also asserts that highway expansion of I-270 would reduce emissions, as a lack of congestion promises faster vehicles, which produce less emissions than slower vehicles. CCS, however, found this was undercut by the reality that highway expansions often lead to more congestion.
“We opposed this the last time it came before the BPW in June 2019,” the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance wrote in a statement. “Our concerns stated then remain the same: the widening projects are inequitable, environmentally damaging, fiscally reckless, and ineffective.”
The expansion has been a critical policy of Hogan’s administration but saw pushback from Montgomery County officials, legislators in the General Assembly and Comptroller Peter Franchot. Franchot, in particular, was concerned that Hogan was trying to rush a vote on his toll-lane proposal. Failing negotiations led to a delay and subsequent cancelling of the vote in December. However, Franchot changed his position on Jan. 8 during the approval of highway expansion in a swing vote decision.
“The pressure on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions profile would be upward, rather than downward,” the CCS report said.
The plan’s strengths, according to the CCS report, were reduced to what Hogan and MDE successfully included that was legally required and the inclusion of relevant models of analysis and supporting evidence.
“This policy review, written by MDE’s own former consultants, clearly shows that Maryland’s climate goals are insufficient for doing our part in addressing the climate crisis,” Steven Hershkowitz, CCAN’s Maryland director, said in a statement. “Making matters worse, we now know Maryland’s climate action plan likely does not put us in the position to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, let alone the 60 percent reduction called for by leading climate scientists.”
Maryland is the 34th largest U.S. state emitter and 59th largest global emitter of fossil fuels, according to reports released in 2018 and 2019. And while the draft plan recognizes the need for long-term pathways to reducing emissions, CCS and the 25 signees doubt their actual effectiveness.
“With President (Donald) Trump sabotaging national climate actions, it’s up to the states to act,” Hershkowitz added. “But under the Hogan Administration’s plan, Maryland is setting the entire climate movement back.”