Yesterday — the final day of the 2008 Maryland legislative session — Maryland’s House Economic Matters Committee killed landmark global warming legislation “after lobbying from industry and from factory workers fearful for their jobs.” The bill (SB 309) would have given the Maryland Department of the Environment the authority to set regulations necessary for a 25% reduction of greenhouse gases from 2006 levels by 2020, with a goal of a 90% reduction by 2050.
Supporting the bill was a diverse climate coalition. Opposition was driven by the industrial manufacturers and energy utilities who would have to reduce emissions, as well as the local unions who feared the loss of jobs.
Opponents of the measure reiterated the classic polluter complaints that compliance would cost too much, it can’t be done, and it kills jobs. Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s Allyson Black claimed the legislation would “make it extremely difficult for businesses to survive.” Her argument was echoed by representatives for the NewPage paper mill — “It would basically put us out of business” — and the ArcelorMittal plant — “That plant is not going to survive.”
Supporters debunked the polluter arguments. Gov. O’Malley responded: “But what sort of increased costs will come from a four-foot rise in sea level for businesses located at Sparrows Point or in Annapolis or in downtown Baltimore?” Rex Wright of the building efficiency company Johnson Controls responded:
The soon to be completed energy efficiency initiatives between Johnson Controls, Inc. and Baltimore City Public Schools, for example, created over 200 jobs, over 50 of which were created for minority and women-owned businesses. Sustainability works; it creates jobs.
As recently as March 21, the Washington Post predicted passage was “likely in the House of Delegates.”
But in the end, the “two buses of workers from the Sparrows Point steel mill in Baltimore County, along with some workers from Baltimore’s Domino Sugar plant” who came to the capitol yesterday and pledged to “stay until midnight to lobby lawmakers” proved to be the decisive factor. Advocates were simply out-lobbied and out-organized by opponents.
After eight years of right-wing policies destroying our economy and dismantling the economic and heath safety net, fear can easily outweigh hope. The climate movement will only succeed when it builds a vast coalition to convince politicians to pursue a course of action that supports progressive interests, not the interests of the polluters who got us into this mess and claim we can’t change for the better.
UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun notes that despite the defeat of the Global Warming Solutions Act, “lawmakers passed all five of the O’Malley administration’s energy bills, including an ambitious plan for reducing energy use 15 percent by 2015, plus a doubling of renewable power, such as wind and solar, to be generated in the state by 2022.”