Congressional Testimony on Climate Change
September 26 , 2007
Madam Chair, Senator Inhofe, and distinguished Members of the Committee, it is my distinct honor and privilege to speak with you today about a global issue with local implications for the citizens of the great State of Maryland.
One of the key areas we’ve identified as central to our progress is sustainability. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we use, the energy we consume – sustainability is our increasingly strong remembrance that we share a civic responsibility not only to our neighbors here and living, but to generations that have yet to be born.
That’s the common goal underlying the choices associated with climate change – the challenges of energy efficiency, conservation, green technologies and renewables. In all of these areas, we rely on our shared belief in sustainability – an understanding that our quality life is among our greatest strengths, and that we must do everything we can to protect it for the next generation.
The Immediate Challenge
Nowhere is that responsibility clearer than global climate change. And nowhere is that more important than Maryland, where our 4,000 miles of coastline -- more than the State of California – leave us vulnerable.
We now know with certainty that human activities -- including coastal development, the burning of fossil fuels and increasing greenhouse gas emissions -- are contributing to both the causes and consequences of climate change. Already, they’ve exacted steep costs:
Over the last century, sea levels have risen one-foot -- nearly double the worldwide average, making us the third most vulnerable region, behind Louisiana and South Florida. 13 charted islands and large expanses of our critical tidal wetlands have already disappeared. And each year, we lose approximately 580 acres to erosion.
However, with sea levels rising at an ever faster rate, we could see a corresponding increase in the intensity of coastal floods and shore erosion, the intrusion of salt-water into freshwater aquifers, and the submergence of tidal wetlands, low-lying lands and the Chesapeake’s last inhabited island community, Smith Island.
But increasing temperatures could do more than erase our shorelines. Low-oxygen “dead zones” could continue to spread, squeezing out aquatic life. Bay oysters, already suffering from disease, could die off in even greater numbers. And staples of Maryland’s past – from the blue crab to the oriole bird – may never be enjoyed by our grandchildren.
The climate crisis is real and while it threatens our shorelines today, its causes and symptoms threaten life on our planet in the generations ahead unless we act.
As a state and -- I would submit to you -- as a nation and a planet, there’s no time to delay. We have to take control of our own future in the face of this threat. The decisions we make today will determine, in a very real way, the future character of our state and nation.
That’s why, in Maryland, we are implementing an ambitious but achievable vision, that we’ve produced in collaboration with our neighboring states, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Together, we established the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a working partnership between 11 states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power plant sector.
Together, we fought for and passed the California Clean Cars standards, which will require these cleaner and more fuel efficient cars in our state by 2011.
Together, we created the Commission on Climate Change this year, charging their professional membership to prepare Maryland’s Plan of Action.
Together, we set the goal of reducing our per capita electricity consumption by 15% by 2015
And together, we’re diversifying our energy portfolio with clean renewables like solar, wind and bio-diesel and bio-mass. We started by adopting one of the most aggressive laws in the nation, requiring 2% of Maryland’s electricity, or approximately 1,500 megawatts, to come from solar by 2022.
With the help of Senators Mikulski and Cardin, Maryland will continue to lead. With their leadership, and the leadership of our tremendous network of advocates, policymakers and experts, we intend to be the first state to develop a long range plan to address the coastal changes caused by climate change. Why? First, because we have an immediate problem. And second, Honorable Members of the Senate, because it is the right thing to do. This fight does not respect manmade borders; instead by its very nature, it calls us to come together.
Other states are also stepping up to the plate. Currently, 26 have taken concrete action on climate change, and over 20 have set substantial greenhouse gas reduction targets. Using the states’ efforts as a model, there are many programs that can radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a reasonable cost.
Need for Federal Policy
But, we cannot go it alone. We need our federal government.
There is a long and proud history of federal leadership on environmental issues in this country. Many environmental issues are inherently local and appropriately dealt with at the state level. But from Teddy Roosevelt and the very first national parks to President George H.W. Bush and the Clean Air Act, we have always relied on strong action from Washington to protect the water, air and land that we love. We desperately need that leadership now.
Together, we can develop national programs to tackle greenhouse gas emissions -- from fossil fuel burning power plants, from cars and buildings, and from other sources. We can transform our carbon based economy into a green, sustainable economy -- an economy that does not prolifically emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as a byproduct of progress. Economic progress at the cost of environmental sustainability is not progress at all. And we can proactively plan for the consequences of climate change in our coastal zone plans, in our flood plain programs and in our national policies.
Members of the committee, in closing, I believe it’s important to remember that while our problems might be man-made, so too are the solutions. For some time, commentators and officials alike have declared, “the time to act is now.” But in many ways, I think that time has already passed. We have years of lost ground to reclaim, but even more to lose, if we don’t bring the weight of America’s full innovative strength to one of our generation’s greatest moral dilemmas. Years of research, years of debate, and years of delay must give way to action.
For the most part, we agree on the challenge, and we agree on the solutions. Now, we need to find the political will. There must be a new path for our nation, which recognizes our responsibility not only as economic or military leaders, but as moral leaders. And so I’d like to thank the committee for their leadership – continuing an important conversation, and taking another step toward real progress. Thank you.