Maryland’s environmental austerity -- Gazette.Net

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Every generation has its doomsday scenario. The invention of gunpowder was supposed to end civilization. In 1798, the Rev. Thomas Malthus convinced the world that overpopulation was outstripping food production leading to apocalyptic famines.

When I was a kid people built underground bomb shelters and schoolchildren practiced “duck and cover” against the coming nuclear holocaust. Later it was pesticides and food chemicals that were supposed to wipe us out (I remember spending three months on a brown rice diet).

Now it’s global warming, renamed climate change because, maybe, the planet isn’t warming after all. This July was the first since 2009 without a 100-degree day.

Apparently the ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. (Curiously, the Chesapeake shoreline is sinking faster than the bay is rising. Is that climate change, too?)

What no one really knows is whether climate change is man-made or simply part of nature’s eternal flux. Nor do we know whether mankind, by itself, can reverse climate change.

But the folks who run Maryland aren’t waiting to find out. They’ve committed our state to an environmental austerity program that, frankly, doesn’t make any sense.

For instance, thanks to the O’Malley administration’s “war on sprawl,” the single-family detached home will soon be a luxury affordable only to the rich. Maryland’s new septic tank ban, stormwater controls, nutrient controls and refusal to provide infrastructure (schools and roads) outside public water/sewer districts are designed to “redirect” growth back to the cities.

In other words, our grandchildren will live in condos and apartments clustered around Metro stops in the “sustainable, walkable communities” the social engineers have designed for them.

Even worse, last month Gov. Martin O’Malley committed us to renewable energy goals that are as likely as the O’s playing the Nats in the World Series.

The green lobby’s great dream is converting us from fossil (carbon) fuels to renewables (wind, solar, hydro, biomass, etc.). In 2004 Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and the legislature forced Maryland’s electric power companies (Pepco, BG&E, Potomac Edison, Delmarva, etc) to get 7.5 percent of their energy from renewables by 2019.

Not to be outdone, in 2008 Gov. O’Malley increased the mandate to 20 percent from renewable by 2022 with an additional requirement that solar be 10 percent of the renewables. These targets won wild applause from the environmentalists and looked good in O’Malley’s re-election brochures, but were utterly fanciful.

Today, (2012 data) Maryland’s electric power comes from coal (42.7 percent), nuclear (35.9 percent), natural gas (13.1 percent) and renewables (7.9 percent). Not only are renewables trending down from their 9.3 percent share in 2011, but only a tiny fraction are so-called “good renewables” (wind and solar).

Two thirds of Maryland’s renewable energy is hydro (dams and water) with most of the rest coming from burning wood, trash and chicken litter. Bottom line, slightly more than 1 percent of Maryland’s energy is coming from wind and solar. Repeat, 1 percent.

Clean energy’s real superstar isn’t wind/solar, it’s natural gas, which increased from 3.6 percent of Maryland’s energy (2006) to 13.1 percent (2012). Thanks to deep-well hydraulic shale drilling (fracking), natural gas is abundant and cheap (prices are down 50 percent), undercutting coal and nuclear prices.

Natural gas fracking is replacing coal-burning power plants, restoring American manufacturing and business by cutting energy costs, lowering trade deficits by serving as an attractive export, boosting the economies of North Dakota and Western Pennsylvania and promises to make America energy independent from foreign oil.

But, although Western Maryland sits on top of the rich Marcellus Shale deposit, Maryland government prohibits fracking pending environmental regulations which, just released, appear to be the nation’s harshest.

Instead of fracking, Maryland is turning to offshore windmill farms which need carbon fuel back-ups, lack transmission lines and, according to a new report, operate at half their projected capacity.

But, most importantly, wind and solar are much more expensive than natural gas. Nevertheless, last month O’Malley once again increased Maryland’s renewable mandate to 25 percent of the power companies’ energy supply by 2020. He also wants us to reduce our electric power consumption by turning off lights, using efficient appliances and turning down the A/C (during global warming?).

According to O’Malley and the greenies, Maryland is going to teach the world a lesson by single-handedly adopting harsh energy restrictions that cripple our industries and punish our citizens without making any impact, whatsoever, on climate change.

Maryland is 1.8 percent of the U.S. population and the U.S. population is 4.4 percent of the world population. While the rest of the world’s economies belch out smoke and pollutants Maryland is going to “lead by example,” says O’Malley. And this guy wants to be president?

But here’s what really gets me: it’s the oceans of red ink, not sea water, that most threaten our grandchildren. The global warming alarmists don’t care a fig about the global debt crisis, which is totally man-made.

If O’Malley and Maryland really want to “lead by example” against a coming apocalypse that we can actually do something about, they should get the state’s fiscal house in order.

Real leadership would be convincing an unwilling public that without fiscal austerity, we really are doomed.

Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at His email address is