Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

O’Malley says Md. can be leader in environmental tech

Gov. Martin O’Malley is betting that setting more ambitious goals for reducing air pollution will force development of a thriving environmental technology industry in Maryland.

Gov. Martin O’Malley

“We have all of the tools and talent we need to also be No. 1 in green sector job creation,” O’Malley said during the kickoff of a Climate Change Summit in Linthicum Heights on Thursday.

The governor unveiled plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state in part by doubling transit ridership and increasing the amount of energy required to be produced by renewable sources.

“So far, we are falling short of our goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020,” O’Malley said. “Right now, so far, we’ve only received a 5 percent reduction. At the current pace, we will fall short.”

In response, O’Malley said he would increase the state’s renewable energy goal to 25 percent by 2022 and would seek to double mass transit ridership by 2020. He said the General Assembly’s decision to increase Maryland’s gasoline tax would make that second goal attainable.

“When I used to mention that goal before, people would roll eyes, and it seemed like a pipe dream,” O’Malley said. “Because of the tough choices that your legislators have made, we actually have been able to get our act together as a state in order to move forward with the Red and the Purple (light rail) lines.”

House of Delegates Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve said “we really have come a long way,” especially in embracing renewable energy as a pillar of state energy policy.

“Now, Maryland is in a position where we are leading the nation in helping to avert the effect on global climate change,” said Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat.

O’Malley also set a long-term goal of making Maryland a “zero waste” state by increasing recycling and composting. He said specific steps toward reaching that goal would have to be developed, and he set a target of reducing waste by 85 percent by 2030.

He said his plan would create 37,000 jobs — “perhaps even more” — as Maryland develops its green energy sector. But an energy resource praised by advocates for its job creation — hydraulic fracturing — is not included in O’Malley’s plan because it is unclear that natural gas is a cleaner alternative than coal in the long run.

“Because natural gas is a fossil fuel with carbon emissions, it should be considered as a transitional fuel as the state works to achieve a 90 percent statewide reduction in [greenhouse gas] emissions by 2050,” the plan says.

The plan was hailed by members of the environmental community, but some have expressed concern that the goals would end up costing Maryland taxpayers money. Offshore wind energy — seen by some as a green industry that Maryland can lead in — would be subsidized by ratepayers if windmills are ever built off the cost of Ocean City.

State lawmakers have also previously suggested charging bottle and plastic bag fees that would be waived or refunded if Marylanders recycled their plastic and glass beverage containers and chose reusable or paper bags when shopping.

O’Malley, recycling a favorite phrase, said the state had to make “better choices.”

“This work is hard. It is not easy, it is life and death hard,” O’Malley said. “We are here today because climate disruption is real and it is not an ideological issue any more than gravity is.”

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, praised O’Malley’s goals and called Maryland a leader, but stressed during the summit that an effective national plan eventually needed to be agreed upon.

“The governor’s plan is an example that other states should follow, given the intensifying impacts of climate change and the unacceptably slow response on Capitol Hill,” Tidwell said.