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Political climate change

The climate-change debate in Maryland, like the climate itself, has changed over the years.

Photo: Van Smith, License: N/A

Van Smith

The climate-change debate in Maryland, like the climate itself, has changed over the years. In 1996, City Paper asked Alan Robock, then the state’s climatologist, whether global climate change was having measurable impacts on Maryland, and he dismissively said, “It is normal for the weather to be variable and it is normal for the climate to change.” Today the Maryland State Climatologist Office’s web site declares: “Evidence indicates that our climate is changing considerably and will continue to change until we make some significant changes in our current lifestyle.”

Scientists, meanwhile, keep making observations to build a case that something needs to be done pronto. On July 31, Environment Maryland (EM) staged a press conference on the Broadway Pier in Fells Point, announcing its new study, “When It Rains, It Pours,” which takes weather-station data from around the country since 1948 and concludes that “extreme downpours are now happening 30 percent more often nationwide than in 1948”—in the mid-Atlantic, the figure is 55 percent—and that “the largest annual storms now produce 10 percent more precipitation on average.”

As Ben Zaitchik, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University, said at the event, a warming climate produces more water vapor, which “is the fuel that drives storms,” resulting in “increasingly expensive” impacts. A timely example is the havoc wrought by derecho storm that hit Maryland earlier this summer, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared on Aug. 2 to have been a “major disaster,” making federal funds available for repairing the damage.

EM Director Tommy Landers, who was joined at the event by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd District) and Maryland state Sen. James Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), stressed the need for policies that reduce climate-changing carbon emissions, especially by developing wind power in Maryland. A proposal for an offshore wind-energy farm in Maryland was stopped in the Maryland General Assembly this year, but the groundwork is already being laid for passage of something to harness the wind’s potential for kilowatts. The Maryland Energy Administration, for instance, announced on July 30 a request for proposals to conduct a “high-resolution geophysical resource survey,” underwritten with funds from the Exelon/Constellation Energy merger, to identify the most promising places to develop wind power in Maryland.

The presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney (R) was not mentioned at the EM press conference, but Romney’s proposal to immediately end federal wind-power incentives if he’s elected would likely undermine the growing industry. President Barack Obama (D), on the other hand, has promised to extend them when they come up for reconsideration early next year, and he’ll seek to phase out oil-and-gas incentives, something that Romney promises to keep in place.

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