Artic ice melting at an alarming rate. Sea level rising. Ravaging forest
fires. Strange, destructive weather patterns. Global warming. Anyone
who has not heard about global warming or its affect on the world must
have been hibernating under a rock for the past few years. The daunting
news is everywhere from Vanity Fair to The Wall Street Journal to
local community newsletters.
The United States stands virtually alone in the world by refusing to
commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Our country
has no national plan to deal with the growing impacts from global warming
on our nation. Therefore, it is by virtue of the states and localities
across America that movement in the direction of halting greenhouse gas
emissions is taking place.
Maryland has begun to do its part. In 2004, the state passed progressive
clean energy standards and joined only a handful of states in mandating
the use of clean energy by utilities. The law is called a state renewable
portfolio standard, and this year, the Maryland legislature passed an addition
to that law that would ensure development of solar energy across the state.
In 2006, the Maryland legislature passed the Healthy Air Act. The Healthy
Air Act required significant caps on pollution coming directly from power
plants. The legislation focused on “criteria” Clean Air
Act pollutants such as nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and – for
the first time in history – carbon dioxide (the most significant
greenhouse gas responsible for global warming). The legislation required
that the Governor of Maryland sign the state onto the Regional Greenhouse
Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first mid-Atlantic state to join the Northeast
states’ initiative to curb global warming pollution from power plants.
Governor Martin O’Malley committed to this initiative and signed
RGGI in April of this year.
With the significant accomplishment of the Healthy Air Act behind them,
advocates pushed for the next solution in the global warming “tool
box”. The Maryland Clean Cars Bill was introduced in the legislative
session in 2007. The bill would add Maryland to 12 other progressive states
that adopted California standards for emissions from cars. Under the Clean
Air Act, states have a choice between a boilerplate Federal standard for
car emissions and a heightened California standard. The Maryland legislature
passed the Clean Cars bill with overwhelming support in April, and Governor
O’Malley signed it into law that same month.
Federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from cars was the topic
of controversy in the first global warming case before the Supreme Court
this year, Massachusetts v. EPA. The Supreme Court (in a split
5 to 4 decision) held that the Environmental Protection Agency does have
the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and should regulate
this pollutant as a part of their delineated regulatory authority under
the Clean Air Act.
Finally, the introduction of one of the most direct measures to address
global warming, the Maryland Global Warming Solutions Act (or more commonly
known as California’s AB 32 bill) shook up the Maryland legislature
this year. The bill would place an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions
from all sectors, not just power plants. The initial target is to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland to 1990 levels by 2020. That is equivalent
to about a 25 percent reduction, with the long-term goal of an 80 percent
reduction in greenhouse gas pollution by 2050. The bill was introduced
in February and was unfortunately killed before the end of the session.
However, it is clear that, next year, Maryland may very well become one
in only a handful of states to pass across-the-board global warming pollution
Overall, Maryland has led the region in combating global warming pollution
on all fronts. On the litigation front, new initiatives to fight proposed
coal-fired power plants legally are sprouting up all over the country as
well. Community advocates and attorneys are joining forces to address the
single greatest environmental threat to our world. States, like Maryland,
have sent a clear message to Congress: If you don’t act, we will.
Attorneys, regardless of their field, must look out for the best interests
of their clients. Global warming will have its affects on many different
types of clients as the years progress, from the insurance industry to
the international corporate conglomerate to the homeowner on the disappearing
Eastern Shore. The future of global warming and its affects on current
energy and environmental law is unclear, but one thing is certain. Climate
change is happening, and it’s going to take development and implementation
of aggressive laws to address the dangerous and somewhat unanticipated
future impacts on Maryland, the nation and the world.
Diana Dascalu-Joffe is a staff attorney and
the chief deputy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network,
an advocacy organization based in Takoma Park, Maryland.