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O'Malley's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions draws skepticism from local Republican lawmakers

August 05, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

A plan unveiled by Gov. Martin O’Malley to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 has drawn skepticism and concern from local Republican lawmakers.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said the environment is important, but he remains concerned about the economic impact of the plan, which he said could increase costs of doing business, especially in Western Maryland, and raise energy costs for consumers.

The governor’s office said the plan will be achieved by enhancing existing programs that aim to reduce greenhouse gases.

“These enhancements will result in a 55 million metric ton reduction in GHG (greenhouse gases) emissions and approximately $1.6 billion in economic benefits. The plan will support more than 37,000 jobs and positively impact public health,” according to information from O’Malley’s office.

Samantha Kappalman, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said key elements of the plan include strengthening the Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires Maryland power providers to get 18 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and up to 20 percent by 2022.

She said legislation likely will be introduced to ramp up the program.

The governor’s plan also seeks to expand EmPOWER Maryland, a 2008 program designed to reduce the state’s per capita electricity consumption by 15 percent by 2015.

“It is my understanding that a work group is analyzing how best to expand the program,” Kappalman said.

The expansion would be handled by the Maryland Public Service Commission, an agency that regulates public utilities in the state.

Todd Meyers, a Potomac Edison spokesman, said the utility would have to wait for more details about the expansion of the Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard program before it could determine how it would affect customers.

“It is too early to gauge impacts right now ... we won’t see it defined until we see new legislation,” Meyers said.

The current EmPOWER surcharge for a typical Maryland resident who uses 1,000 kwh of electricity a month is about $2.44 a month, Meyers said. For those using 1,200 kwh a month, the monthly surcharge is about $2.93.

Customers can offset the cost by taking part in energy-saving programs, such as those offering rebates to those who buy energy-efficient products such as LED bulbs or appliances.

Meyers said Potomac Edison is concerned about the potential for increased costs that could be passed on to customers.

Another program outlined in the plan is intended to “ensure all products in Maryland can be reused, recycled or composted,” according to the governor’s office.

Kappalman said this zero waste plan is still being developed.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he had not seen the governor’s plan, but hoped that “whatever recommendation they are making for reducing our emissions ... I hope they are sensitive to our job situation and energy costs.”

Shank said he was not suggesting that the state turn a blind eye to the threat of sea-level rise but go about their plans in a “smart way” that takes into consideration costs and benefits.

He advocated free-market solutions such as developing fracking — also known as hydraulic fracturing, a process to extract natural gas — in Western Maryland.

“I certainly hope that these plans to do not further hamper our economic development efforts,” Shank said. “I have not been a fan of the governor’s past efforts.”

Shank said he wondered how much of the plan is connected to O’Malley’s presidential ambitions in 2016.

Serafini, chairman of the county’s delegation, shared Shank’s concerns, saying that “while it is always great to put forward goals, it is also important to have the proper perspective.”

“When the Staples Distribution Center (in Hagerstown) added solar panels, the company representative indicated that while they were excited for the positive environmental impact, it also made tremendous economic sense,” Serafini said in an email.

Without a combination of these two factors, future success would be doubtful, Serafini said.

“A recent Washington Post article indicated that while the governor has touted his offshore wind project, the economics are such that it is doubtful that they will ever be built. I believe that we can have both environmentally sound and economic viable options, and should strive for both,” he said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, did not return two phone calls and a text message seeking comment about the governor’s plan.

Dan Andrews, chairman of the Catoctin Group, a chapter of the Maryland Sierra Club that includes Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties, said area residents should know that the scientific community has been following climate change for decades.

“I personally have been following it since 1974. We must as a species change our way of living,” Andrews said, adding that he was “very glad” about the governor’s plan because the Maryland shoreline is extremely vulnerable to a rise in the sea level.

According to a June report from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, the sea level on the state’s coast could rise by about 2 feet to 6 feet by 2100. The state has about 3,100 miles of tidal shoreline, according to the report.

Andrews said new jobs could come through the construction of green buildings or the manufacture of solar panels.

“Doing the same old thing you have been doing since World War II is not necessarily the economic driver of the future,” he said.

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