ANNAPOLIS-Three environmental groups this week issued grave warnings about the threat global warming poses to Maryland, urging the Maryland Department of the Environment to establish a vehicle emissions reduction program they say would reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful toxins.
Environment Maryland, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the Sierra Club teamed up to urge the Ehrlich Administration to strengthen emissions standards and encourage low emissions vehicles. They say that by implementing a program already enacted by at least ten states, Maryland could reduce car and light truck emissions of carbon dioxide–the predominant greenhouse gas–by 14 percent below projected levels in 2020.
A petition submitted to MDE by the three groups cautioned that inaction on global warming could lead to average temperature increases of two to nine degrees over the next century and tens of thousands of flooded acres around the Chesapeake.
“This is a catastrophe waiting to happen to all of us,” Betsy Johnson, chair of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter, said of global warming. “Improving fuel efficiency is one of the best ways we can cut down on our global warming emissions.”
The three environmental groups took advantage of a state regulation allowing “any interested person” to file a petition requesting the “promulgation, amendment, or repeal of any regulation over which the Secretary has rulemaking authority.” The Department of the Environment received the petition Wednesday and has a maximum of 60 days to rule on it.
“We are in the process of reviewing all recommendations and comments in the information given to us,” said Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. “We will make our considerations and base our decision on what we believe is best for the citizens of Maryland.”
Under the Federal Clean Air Act, states must meet certain baseline emissions standards but have the option of going further by adopting the Clean Cars Program – started in California.
“This will both have a real reduction in global warming pollution and will push toward national and global warming solutions,” said Brad Heavner, state director of Environment Maryland.
The program, which would be implemented in 2010, imposes limits on global warming, toxic and smog-producing pollutants spewed out of cars and light trucks like minivans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
To meet higher standards, automobile manufacturers would have to use new technology in making transmissions and seals, which together account for much of the pollution, according to Heavner. In addition, the program would mandate that low-emissions vehicles such as hybrids account for 10 percent of automobile sales by 2014.
Maryland’s transportation sector accounts for 37 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, while 70 percent of transportation emissions comes from cars and light trucks, according to the Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center.
By 2025, car and light truck smog pollutants would be reduced by 11 to 13 percent and the cancer-causing toxin benzene by 12 to 15 percent, according to the petition.
Similar legislation met opposition from the Department of the Environment, automobile manufacturers and automobile dealers early last year. Opponents said the costs outweighed the environmental benefits, and the bill never made it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Heavner, however, thinks things could be different this time around. He says he feels encouraged by increasing national concern and awareness about global warming.