Women Lawmakers Take Aim at Climate Change

Sunny-day flooding in Annapolis. City of Annapolis photo

As Maryland becomes increasingly susceptible to catastrophic events related to climate change, lawmakers are seeking ways to make the state more resilient and better prepared for what may come.

Senators and delegates on Monday night unveiled a package of five resiliency bills designed to make it easier for state planners and policymakers to prepare for — and, if possible, prevent — the ravages of climate change.

The all-female lineup of lawmakers who spoke at an Annapolis news conference Monday night represent Ellicott City, which has endured catastrophic damage from two “thousand-year” floods in less than two years; Annapolis, where City Dock is regularly under water; and Baltimore City, where poor residents swelter through heat islands and waterfront communities see regular flooding.

“We all face climate change in different ways,” said state Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel). “We’re blessed to live here in Maryland, but we all have the burden of being one of the states that’s most significantly impacted by climate change.”

Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard) estimated that Maryland is is facing up to $19 billion worth of damage from sea level rise and flooding by 2050.

“It’s really easy to look at numbers that big and far off and feel removed from the consequences of these events, but there are communities and families behind those numbers,” she said.

Hester is proposing the Maryland Chief Resilience Officer Act of 2020, which would create a new position within state government, to take the lead on Maryland’s resiliency and response strategy. The official would coordinate resiliency strategies among state and local agencies, identify funding streams that could be used to combat climate change, and work with private industry.

Elfreth is proposing a bill that would enable counties and large municipalities to create, either separately or jointly, Resilience Authorities, which would enable them to issue bonds to fund large infrastructure projects related to sea level rise, nuisance flooding, and erosion.

Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) is introducing the Environmental Accountability and Transparency Act, which would create an ombudsman position within the state Attorney General’s office to field and investigate environmental complaints from average citizens. Lierman said the measure is necessary as the Hogan administration cuts back on enforcement funding for the state’s environmental and natural resources agencies.

“If we are going to combat climate change, we need to have active enforcement of all the environmental laws that we’ve worked on for decades,” she said.

Del. Courtney Watson (D-Howard), who represents Ellicott City, has introduced House Bill 78, which would enable local governments to seek funding for climate resiliency projects from the state’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. The bill would change state law to make flood control an eligible criteria for funding.

“For every dollar we spend on mitigation, we save $6 in damages from flooding,” Watson said.

Hester, who also represents Ellicott City, is introducing the Maryland PACE-R Financing Act, which would extend the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy financing mechanism to resiliency purposes.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.