The Public Policy

O’Malley’s Hot Air

Maryland's Democrat governor pushes ahead with "smart green" anti-global warming measures that can only be described as economically stupid -- even if his one-party state weren't in a severe recession.

By and 3.6.09

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This January, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley proposed legislation that he promised would fight climate change and "grow" the economy. This week, the state Senate passed the bill, with one of those "Who could disagree with it?" titles the "Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act." If it becomes law, voters will slowly begin to see how reducing Maryland's carbon footprint also hurts the state's economic prospects.

This isn't rocket science. It's basic math. Fighting climate change hurts the economy because almost all acts of economic production are powered by combusting fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), a process that emits greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming. Alternative "clean" energy sources such as wind and solar power are said to be the solution to climate change, but they are much more expensive than fossil fuels. So more clean energy = higher production costs.

Maryland's steel workers understand the tension between fighting climate change and economic growth, which is why they opposed a similar global warming bill last year. O'Malley won their support this time by exempting them from costly greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

O'Malley's bargain with the steelworkers is an acknowledgment that his plans are painful. Yet the governor tries to make his global warming policies sound easy, even profitable. His plan proposes precipitous emissions cuts of 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2020, while at the same time promising a "net increase in jobs and a net economic benefit."

In his press release, O'Malley trumpets a study that claims steep emissions cuts could "result in a net economic benefit to the state of approximately $2 billion." But his legislation only pays lip service to the study's severe "recommended goals" for emissions reductions in 2010 and 2015.

Put it this way: If the governor and the Senate truly believe that the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act is an economic opportunity, why do they delay binding emissions cuts until 2020? Why not start now?

It's just a little too convenient that the governor postpones real targets -- and therefore real economic sacrifice -- until he is safely out of office. O'Malley's lieutenants constantly praise the governor's "bold" leadership, but his style of governance more resembles James Buchanan's than Abraham Lincoln's.

O'Malley says Maryland simply "must take action on climate change" because the state is "so vulnerable to rising sea levels" due to its 3,100 miles of coastline. Really? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the preeminent body of climate scientists, sea levels are expected to rise about 15 inches through 2100. That's only three inches more than sea levels rose over the last 150 years.

Somehow Maryland survived and thrived in the last century and a half. There's little reason to expect the state won't continue to prosper -- unless its politicians enact ill conceived climate plans that shackle economic growth.

And sea levels will only rise if temperatures actually warm. Temperatures haven't increased in seven years, despite a steady increase in global emissions of carbon dioxide. (Sorry, Al Gore.) There's even some early evidence that sea levels have fallen for the past two years.

But we digress. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act is part of Governor O'Malley's "Smart, Green, and Growing" legislative agenda. His expensive energy policies might be green, but they certainly won't lead to growth in Maryland's economy.

That the Maryland Senate would go along with this during a severe recession is right generous of them, we think. However, the House of Delegates may have a different opinion.

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About the Author

William Yeatman is an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.