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Governor O'Malley's Latest Vision: Comprehensive Climate Action Plan

J. Mijin Cha

In the absence of federal leadership, states are taking the lead in the fight against climate change. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently released an ambitious climate change plan that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020, generate $1.6 billion in economic benefits, and support more than 37,000 jobs. The plan has over 150 initiatives that touch on nearly every aspect of the economy from transportation to agriculture to zero waste.

Much of the plan is standard, common sense programs, such as increasing renewable energy production and use, making buildings more energy efficient, and increasing fuel efficiency and public transportation options. But, there are also several innovative ideas proposed, including voluntary stationary source reductions, buy local incentives, and encouraging pay-as-you-drive insurance plans.

Pay-as-you-drive is an interesting idea that ties the amount of the premium paid with actual vehicle usage. Premiums are determined based on the distance an automobile is driven, the speed at which it is driven, and the time of day it is driven. This information is provided with telematics devices and allows the insurance carrier to adjust the price of coverage based on the degree of risk posed by the driver’s behavior. The Progressive Insurance Group and GMAC Insurance Group currently offer pay-as-you-drive programs. In many ways, pay-as-you-drive is a smarter insurance plan that allows policyholders to determine their premiums. Driving less and driving more safely reduces the risk of accidents and insurers potential liability. Pay-as-you-drive encourages driving less because doing so lowers premiums, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

Maryland’s climate change plan comes at a time when experts warn that coast sea levels could rise six feet in the state. Given that the state has 3,100 miles of tidal shore, a coastal sea level rise of six feet --not to mention storm surges would go far beyond that -- would be devastating.

And, the sea level rise could happen much sooner than we expect. A recent report from NOAA showed that coastal sea-level rise is a very real threat. Melting Arctic sea ice and Greenland ice sheets, snow melt, heat buildup in the oceans, and rising sea levels all broke or nearly broke records in 2012. What the NOAA report also shows is that over longer time frames of 30, 50 and more than 100 years, temperatures are rising significantly. Critics often use individual years or time frames to argue against climate change but the correct way to read data is to look at trends over longer periods of time and the warming trend is undeniable.

Maryland’s climate plan is just Governor O’Malley’s latest bold vision. As we’ve highlighted frequently, Maryland was the first state to integrate alternative metrics into its accounting systems. The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) provides a more complete picture of economic and social progress than the state gross domestic product. Just as more states are adopting the GPI, let’s hope they also follow his lead on climate action plans.