The Case for Local Climate Action Plans in Maryland

With severe weather and storms on the rise as our planet’s climate continues to warm exponentially, Maryland must do more to prepare its citizens and its infrastructure for climate change-fueled disasters. Just this past August, Hurricane Ida made landfall all across the Gulf Coast, leaving millions without power and displacing thousands. 

Climate change causes these severe weather events to occur more frequently and with more intensity. With over 3,000 miles of shoreline, much of Maryland’s coastal areas are at extremely high risk for flooding and natural disasters. Maryland needs to anticipate these disasters before they happen — this will prepare communities and save money and lives. 

Climate resiliency is the ability to successfully anticipate and respond to hazardous climate events. This includes developing infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change — such as extreme heat waves, flooding, sea-level rise, and increased storm severity and frequency — as well as providing funding to support the communities most affected. Climate resiliency must also be coupled with meaningful efforts to mitigate carbon pollution and tackle the root of the climate crisis. 

How Can Maryland Prepare?

Creating Climate Action Plans (CAPs) at the local level is one way of ensuring Maryland is prepared for climate change. CAPs look at the most vulnerable aspects of a community and outline steps to make sure those areas are prepared for climate impacts. Oftentimes CAPs will set a target for emissions reductions and a deadline for achieving that goal. 

The Maryland Department of the Environment released a CAP in February this year, calling for net-zero emissions by 2045. It outlines a plan for how the state will achieve this reduction in emissions over the next few decades. While some counties have already created their own CAPs, every county should have one in order to prepare – local jurisdictions are especially in need of their own CAPs. There are so many intricacies within every community, and that calls for very specific and local actions catered to the needs of each area.

Climate resilience is something that is being explored in the latest version of a climate bill sponsored by Maryland Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo and Senator Kramer. Last year’s version of the bill, the Climate Crisis and Education Act (CCEA), did not pass in the 2021 legislative session. An updated version of the bill is slated to be introduced in the upcoming 2022 legislative session under a new name. 

The CCEA would have created revenue through putting a fee on imported transportation fuel and other fuels, creating an incentive to shift away from fossil fuel use in the state. The CCEA would have forced polluters to pay for their emissions, creating a significant amount of revenue for the state to put towards climate action initiatives. For example, 50 percent of the revenue generated from the CCEA would go directly into the pockets of low-income families who need it the most. 

The latest iteration of the bill focuses on environmental justice even more than the previous version, and the specifics of where the other 50 percent of revenue will be allocated are still being ironed out. Those working on the bill say they are exploring the possibility of allocating funding for local governments to create Climate Action Plans. The updated bill would combine various aspects of climate resiliency, such as limiting planet-warming emissions, as well as providing funding for infrastructure resiliency. 

Prevention Funding is a No-Brainer 

Investing in climate resilience has significant economic benefits. According to FEMA, every dollar spent federally on natural disaster mitigation will save six dollars in the long run when disasters do strike — this is an investment with a huge return. For flood mitigation and wind damage specifically, every dollar spent will save seven dollars and every dollar spent saves five dollars, respectively. 

Considering the frequency at which severe storms occur and will continue to occur, Maryland is at an extreme disadvantage if the state doesn’t do more to prepare our communities for these disasters. 

FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program devotes millions of dollars in grant funding to support disaster resilience. Communities can apply for these grants to fund resilience projects, preparing areas for the next climate-fueled disaster, whether it’s related to building codes or flood walls. FEMA plans to add $3.7 billion to BRIC under the Biden Administration.

Programs like BRIC are an example of what we need more of – BRIC has been successful in Maryland, with over $78 million worth of projects submitted within the first year to the BRIC program for federal support. With so much to accomplish to prepare for climate change, investing in more state programs like this helps safeguard the future of Maryland.

Additionally, the state can improve on climate resiliency by establishing a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO). In the 2021 legislative session, Senator Katie Fry Hester (D) proposed SB 62, which would require that the Director of Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) appoint the CRO, but the bill died in committee this year. Senator Hester believes Maryland needs someone in charge of climate resilience who can be held accountable to plan for several decades ahead. 

The Biden Administration has been accomplishing climate projects at the federal level, but states and local governments must have their own CAPs and their own climate resiliency plans. Passing legislation that requires local governments to create CAPs and provides them with the necessary funding would ensure that every area of Maryland is prepared for the climate crisis.

Featured Image: Photo by Drngogo via Wikipedia