As impacts from climate change become more visible and costly, leaders across the nation are responding. In the wake of projections from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science showing that Maryland could face sea-level rise of more than six feet by the end of the century, Governor Martin O’Malley unveiled a state climate action plan this week. The initiative will reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also supporting job creation and economic growth.

Sea-level rise will make Maryland--and other states on the Atlantic coast--increasingly vulnerable to costly and damaging floods, underscoring the urgency to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet. The actions described in Governor’s plan aim to achieve a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 2006 levels by 2020. According to analysis conducted by Towson University for the state, the plan is expected to produce more than $1 billion in net economic benefits and support more than 37,000 jobs, providing yet more evidence that smart environmental policy is smart economic policy.

Highlights of Maryland’s Climate Action Plan

Maryland’s comprehensive plan is even more ambitious than the national goal to reduce GHG emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The plan contains more than 150 initiatives that will reduce GHG emissions across the state’s economy, many of which build on and enhance policies that are already on the books. Together, these initiatives are expected to reduce annual emissions by the equivalent of about 55 million metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 11 million cars off the road for one year. Key components of the plan target the energy and transportation sectors, which together accounted for more than 70 percent of the state’s emissions in 2010. Initiatives include:

  • Energy Initiatives (46 percent of emissions reductions): Maryland plans reduce energy sector emissions by expanding existing programs to encourage renewable energy generation and increase energy efficiency. Maryland is a participant in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program among nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to reduce power sector emissions. RGGI recently announced plans to reduce its cap by 45 percent starting next year, a step that Maryland’s plan estimates will result in an additional 3.6 metric tons of CO2 in the state. The state’s current Renewable Portfolio Standard requires 20 percent of electricity sold in the state to come from renewable sources by 2022—the new plan proposes to increase the standard to 25 percent by 2020, a step that would require approval from the legislature. The plan also emphasizes the importance of saving energy: Its current efficiency goal calls for reductions in both per capita peak demand and per capita electricity consumption by 15 percent below 2007 levels by 2015. To meet and potentially exceed this target, the state plans to work with utilities to enhance programs to reduce energy use in homes and businesses.

  • Transportation Initiatives (25 percent of emissions reductions): New initiatives to reduce GHG emissions from transportation may include more financial incentives for purchase of new vehicles, accelerating the replacement of older vehicles on the road with cleaner models. The state is considering extending tax credits for electric vehicles and charging equipment as a part of a goal to put 60,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2020. Maryland will also work to expand public transportation options, including new bus and rail services, with a goal of doubling public transportation ridership over 2006 levels by 2020. While this goal may sound like a reach at first, it is important to note that the state is already well on its way to this goal: It’s already increased light rail ridership by 44 percent and total public transit trips by 20 percent.

Other initiatives that will contribute to the remaining reductions include a goal to plant more than 43,000 acres of forest by 2020 and a strategy to eliminate 85 percent of Maryland’s solid waste by 2030.

Maryland’s Plan Complements Climate Action in Other States

Maryland’s 25 percent reduction target ranks among the most ambitious in the nation. But it is important to note that other states are also moving forward with climate action. Twenty-four states have energy efficiency standards, 29 states and the District of Columbia have renewable energy standards, and 10 states—nine RGGI member states and California—are participating in cap-and-trade programs.

These plans will not only reduce states’ greenhouse gas emissions, they can produce significant economic benefits. Analysis by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that Ohio’s efficiency standard could save customers more than $5 billion through 2020. Investments of auction proceeds from the RGGI program to date are creating more than $1 billion in lifetime savings for utility customers and returning more than $30 million to consumers through development of clean and renewable energy programs, according to a report prepared by RGGI, Inc. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, growth of wind and solar industries in Texas over the past several years has supported more than 60,000 jobs and millions of dollars in investments. Iowa’s largest energy company is planning to add around 1,000MW of wind generation in Iowa by 2016—upon completion of this project, the state expects to receive around 40 percent of its electricity from wind. And there are numerous other examples around the country of growing renewable energy industry’s contributing to job creation and other local economic benefits.

State Policies Can Inform National Action

State experiences are showing that ambitious action on climate is achievable—and does not have to come at the expense of jobs and economic growth. As the Administration moves forward with its National Climate Plan, state leaders like Maryland can serve as examples of effective emissions-reductions strategies that can be replicated and scaled up.

As Governor O’Malley noted during his speech yesterday: “Climate disruption is real, and it is not an ideological issue any more than gravity is. It is physics, pure and simple.”

The impacts of climate change are here—in the form of sea level rise, flooding, drought, stronger storms, more intense heat waves, and much more. Maryland’s plan showcases that states and the country can cost-effectively protect themselves against these impacts. Indeed, they can’t afford not to.