Climate activists up the pressure on Md. lawmakers as session starts

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Six Maryland environment professors penned a letter to the presiding officers of the General Assembly this week, imploring them to commit to reducing climate pollution in Maryland by 60% below 2006 levels by 2030. They cited recommendations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which released a major report last summer revealing that drastic reductions in emissions are urgent and necessary to prevent a climate catastrophe.

“Just last year, Maryland experienced five separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, including hurricanes and tropical storms. Maryland’s 3,000 miles of tidal shoreline are vulnerable to sea level rise and retreating shores, threatening habitat, agriculture, and communities,” the scientists wrote in a letter, with the support of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).

“We need to do more and we need to do it now. Maryland is uniquely situated as a state that is both particularly vulnerable to climate change and well-positioned to mitigate it,” they continued.

The letter was signed by Donald Boesch and Eric A. Davidson, who are professors at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; David Vanko, dean of the College of Science & Mathematics at Towson University; Belay Demoz, director of the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technologies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County; and Darryn Waugh and Thomas Haine, who are on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University.

To reach a 60% emission reduction goal, Maryland should electrify transportation like school buses and require all new building construction to be electric by next year, Victoria Venable, the Maryland director for CCAN, said.

Last year, senators proposed a 60% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 while the House supported a 50% reduction goal, contending that there was not enough evidence behind the 60% reduction target.

Leading Democrats in the House and Senate have said that passing aggressive climate legislation is among their top priorities of this year’s General Assembly session. The Senate appears to be proceeding with one all-encompassing climate bill, while the House will tackle the threats from climate change in smaller chunks.

Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) said in a news conference this week that his caucus is willing to work with lawmakers who sponsor legislation addressing climate change, but as long as it does “not go to the extremes.” He said there will be a bill this year that “puts a lockbox” on the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, a fund that climate bill sponsors intended to use to fund climate change initiatives.

On the first day of the legislative session Wednesday, climate activists staked out a strategic location on Lawyers Mall in front of the State House as lawmakers were walking to their noon-time floor sessions. They set out 100 empty plastic chairs to symbolize the 100 people worldwide who die from extreme weather and climate change every six hours, according to the World Health Organization.

“Most people believe it’s a wild undercount,” said Mike Tidwell, CCAN’s executive director.

Environmental groups are expected to continue to intensify their lobbying efforts over the next few weeks.

“We expect a bill to pass and we’re making the point that Maryland has fallen not just behind but significantly behind compared to D.C. and Virginia in the past few years,” Tidwell said.

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