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Maryland: The Old Line State, Holding the Line on Carbon Pollution

Deron Lovaas

Posted June 24, 2014 in Solving Global Warming

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annapolis-237078_1280.jpg

Maryland's beautiful state capitol building in Annapolis

As readers of this blog know well, this month EPA unveiled its new Clean Power Plan, as explained by EPA Associate Assistant Administrator for Climate Joe Goffman in this cool little video. The program relies on a policy tool used for years pursuant to the Clean Air Act by state air agencies, the state implementation plan or SIP. I worked on SIP development a couple of decades ago with Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE), and am looking forward to working with MDE from my perch here at NRDC as technical staff write SIPs for new regulatory standards for power plants.

While Maryland has a lot of leeway when it comes to writing the SIP, which is basically a strategy with a set of emission reduction measures, EPA sets the bar for the pollution reductions the state must achieve. EPA’s rulemaking, as my colleague David Hawkins explains, arrived at targets with four building blocks:

1.       Make coal plants more efficient;

2.       Use gas plants more effectively;

3.       Increased wind and solar; and

4.       Energy efficiency.

EPA lists state targets, as well as changes in state power carbon intensities necessary to hit them. NRDC has a handy table laying this out, as well as a lot more useful information about the proposed rule, in this fact sheet (pdf). From this we find out that Maryland’s carbon emissions rate was 1,870 pounds per MegaWatt-hour in 2012 (the baseline year). Maryland must ultimately cut these emissions by 37 percent, down to 1,187 pounds per MegaWatt-hour, by 2030.

Maryland is in an excellent position to get there from here, thanks to the strong foundation provided by a set of policies enacted over the past decade. The most notable of these is the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009, a statute which set a reductions target at 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020. This law requires that agencies collaborate to develop plans for implementation, and about a year ago Governor O’Malley rolled out the most recent, quite impressive plan which I wrote about on these pages.

This law and the big plans for its implementation are in turn supported by four other policy pillars:

  • The Maryland Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS), requiring that power providers supply 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2022, a target which could be increased moving forward to 2030;
  • EmPOWER Maryland, an energy efficiency program driving Maryland’s per capita total electricity consumption and peak load demand down by 15 percent by 2015 from a 2007 baseline;
  • Zero Waste, an aggressive strategy achieve long-term 2040 recycling and waste diversion goals of 80% and 85%; and
  • The Maryland Clean Cars Program, in which Maryland raises the carbon pollution performance bar from our fleet of vehicles to match that of the nation thanks to national standards out to 2025 that are already driving fuel-efficiency to record highs.

And there’s yet another Maryland policy choice moving us along to a cleaner future: Our membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which as my colleague Dale Bryk explains charges polluting power plants above a certain size for pollution permits and then uses the revenue from permit auctions for investments in energy efficiency and clean energy projects. It’s been successful since its launch in 2009, and in fact has allowed Maryland to invest funding to assist low-income households pay their energy bills.

This brings us back to EmPOWER Maryland, which is in the midst of new policy and program development, and state agencies are working with utilities and groups including NRDC to make the next three years of the program – 2015-2017 – the best yet. The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), MDE, the Office of People’s Counsel (OPC), the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the rulemaking Public Service Commission (PSC) are working hard to develop and assemble our state’s own building blocks to ensure we build on the impressive track record of the EmPOWER program.

Moving forward, this program can keep increasing the percentage of our state’s commercial and residential buildings that are models of efficiency. And that must include low- and moderate-income housing, which the EmPOWER statute calls out as especially important. Small wonder. While the average household might pay a few percent of their income for energy use that number is double or more for low-income budgets.

That’s why NRDC is working with the National Housing Trust, the National Consumer Law Center, and other partners in Maryland to build on the success of EmPOWER as the state and its utilities develop plans for the future. In fact, this is part of a new national initiative we’re calling Efficiency for All. For more information click here (pdf) and here (pdf, flip to p. 28).

I look forward to working with fellow Marylanders to deliver efficiency for all our citizens, helping our air quality to soar well past the bar set by EPA this month.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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