Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2007

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 Bar Bulletin Focus

Enviromental Law    

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 reduction legislation.

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.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May  2007