Senate Looks to Chesapeake States for Global Warming Strategies

By Dan Lamothe
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

WASHINGTON - Maryland and Virginia's initiatives to save the Chesapeake Bay should serve as models for federal policy on global warming, Senate environment committee members said Wednesday.

The strategies include stricter clean car standards, a commission to set greenhouse gas reduction goals, electricity use reduction goals and developing new renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

"I think we can learn from the states," said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. "That's what federalism is about. You're giving us workable models that we can now use to develop policy."

The discussion came during a three-hour committee hearing called by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to address the impact of global warming on the Chesapeake Bay. It included participation from top officials in both states, including all four senators, governors Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Tim Kaine of Virginia and U.S. Rep Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.

A Forecast of Dying Species, Flooding

Maryland environmentalists spoke of a grim scenario for the bay, saying temperature increases could kill off species of fish, crabs and oysters, hurting the state's environment and economy.

Rising temperatures could increase water levels in the bay between two and four feet by the end of the century, flooding every island as well as low-lying urban areas like Main Street in Annapolis, they said.

"It's not the dramatic 20-foot increases you see in some simulations, but think about the dramatic impact it could have," said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a 194,000-member watchdog group.

A variety of suggestions were made to curb the problems, including implementing a cap-and-trade provision in a pending Senate bill to encourage farmers to use friendlier practices for the environment. If nutrients -- particularly nitrogen -- don't run into the water as frequently, it will result in fewer oxygen-free "dead spots," they said.

The gloomy predictions helped clarify that global warming has an impact on the local level, senators said.

"Too often, the focus on global warming is simply on polar bears and Antarctica," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

A Call for a Comprehensive Plan

O'Malley urged the Senate to develop national policy on global warming, eliminating the "patchwork" approach he said is now in place.

"Currently, 26 states have initiated actions related to climate change. Over 20 states have set substantial greenhouse gas reduction targets," O'Malley said. "The time has come to develop national programs that effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants, from our automobiles and a multitude of other sources."

O'Malley said he suspects that once private industries see that green technology is affordable and desirable in the marketplace, they are more likely to pursue it. To this end, the state is researching how so-called "green collar" jobs, such as building wind farms, can be encouraged, he said.

Global warming has national security implications as well, Kaine told the senators. Rising water levels would have a direct impact on Hampton Roads, Va., home to numerous military installations, he said.

The hearing came the same day as the release of the National Wildlife Federation's new report, "The Chesapeake Bay and Global Warming: A Paradise Lost for Hunters, Anglers and Outdoor Enthusiasts?"

Among the report's findings:

  • Rapidly rising sea levels will flood coastal marshes on the bay, making coastal habitats and property vulnerable.
  • Warmer air and water in the region will change the composition of the bay ecosystem, contributing to worsening oxygen-free dead spots and harmful algae blooms, which encourage the spread of diseases.
  • More extreme weather, including floods, droughts and heat waves, will increase polluted runoff into the bay, worsening water quality.
  • Changing climate patterns will make the Chesapeake less desirable to waterfowl for breeding, changing its ecosystem.

The report, which calls for updating land management practices, reducing greenhouse gases and increased funding for conservation, was cited by several senators during the hearing.

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Copyright 2007 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism