Jerry Brown Dominated Headlines. But Maryland’s Ben Grumbles Made News, Too

Maryland Environment Secretary Benjamin H. Grumbles may not have worn flowers in his hair when he traveled to San Francisco last week, but he did engage in intense and meaningful discussions with fellow officials, business leaders and environmental activists about how to combat climate change. Grumbles attended the first-of-its-kind climate summit of state leaders and other stakeholders, convened by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) as an extension of international climate talks held annually by the U.N. That confab was preceded by a two-day conference in San Francisco of the Water Policy Institute, a 32-state coalition under the aegis of the National Governors Association. Brown and Grumbles’ boss, Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), serve as co-chairmen of the institute. It was not lost on conference participants that a climate crisis was brewing 3,000 miles away, the result of Hurricane Florence’s devastation. Benjamin H. Grumbles “There was the irony of being in meetings discussing climate mitigation and adaptation on the West Coast when on the East Coast they were forecasting 18 trillion gallons of water going into North Carolina and South Carolina,” Grumbles said in an interview. “That equates to the volume of water in the Chesapeake Bay.” Both conferences were designed to show that even as the Trump administration withdraws the U.S. from its international greenhouse gas reduction commitments and scotches federal environmental regulations, progress is still being made in the fight against climate change. As his long political tenure draws to a close, Brown has set himself up as a leading counterpoint to President Trump on climate policy among U.S. elected officials. “There was optimism and enthusiasm about actions that can be taken in states and on a regional basis” to fight climate change, Grumbles said. The big climate conference Brown organized drew about 4,000 people, including national figures such as former Vice President Al Gore and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, celebrities from the entertainment industry like Harrison Ford – who, in a speech about climate change, said, “Let’ kick this monster’s ass” – and countless corporate leaders, who talked about what their companies are doing to reduce global warming. At the conference, Maryland, New York and Connecticut announced that they would begin the regulatory process to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – a fast-acting greenhouse gas used in refrigeration appliances, air conditioners and aerosol cans. Federal HFC regulations have been blocked in court, and thus far only California has embarked on its own state-level program. “This is a classic example of where states are partnering with environmental groups and business interests to take the lead,” Grumbles said. Maryland will promulgate its HFC regulations in about six months, with an outright ban likely to be put in place in 2020. It’s a prelude to the state taking further action to regulate methane – which is produced through the decomposition of waste in landfills, animal wastes, production and distribution of natural gas and petroleum, coal production, and fossil fuel combustion – and black carbon, the sooty black material emitted from gas and diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, and other sources that burn fossil fuels.  Grumbles also played a prominent role at the conferences in his capacity as chairman of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That’s the nine-state consortium of Northeastern states that auctions credits to polluters to reduce power plant carbon emissions. Each quarterly auction generates $12 million to $15 million for the Maryland treasury, which the state uses for a strategic energy investment fund and utility ratepayer relief. At the conference, Grumbles served on a panel with former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the potential for international emissions trading. Several Chinese business and government leaders sat in, Grumbles said. RGGI is expected to grow in the next couple of years. Virginia is already taking steps to join the alliance, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is moving to reverse the decision of his predecessor, former Gov. Chris Christie (R), to withdraw from RGGI. Each participating state commits to greenhouse gas reduction levels, and must follow guidelines for how to distribute the auction proceeds. Celebrating its 10th anniversary next week, RGGI just issued a report showing its environmental impact through September 2016. The highlights: 

  • $1.7 billion in energy bill savings
  • 7.0 million MWh of electricity use avoided
  • 30.4 million MMBtu of fossil fuel use avoided
  • 6.4 million short tons of CO2 emissions avoided.

 Maryland is currently pursuing a mandated 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on 2006 baseline levels by 2040. The state also has a mandate for utilities to hit 25 percent renewable fuels by 2020, though legislation will be reintroduced in 2019 to make those goals more robust. Grumbles chairs the state’s Climate Change Commission, which is putting together regulations to achieve those goals, and is discussing multiple ways of reducing carbon emissions. Michael C. Powell, an industry lawyer with the environmental practice at Gordon Feinblatt LLC and a member of the commission, warned business leaders Thursday to be prepared. “There’s going to have to be a lot of cuts somewhere, and there will be winners and losers in the business community,” he said at a conference of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. As Maryland leaders wrestle with imposing more ambitious carbon reduction goals, California lawmakers have decided that the state should go carbon-free by 2045. Asked for his opinion on the Golden State’s new mandate, Grumbles replied, “It’s important to be ambitious, to have stretch goals.” And asked whether he encountered any celebrities while he was in San Francisco, Grumbles said, “I was really looking for Willie Mays. I did not get a chance to mingle with the Hollywood crowd. Probably a good thing.” [email protected]

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