Ho­gan’s poli­cies may make flood­ing worse

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY MIKE TIDWELL

The peo­ple of El­li­cott City need more than thoughts and prayers. They need more than Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s vis­its and standard emer­gency re­lief. They need the gov­er­nor to ac­tu­ally hear the roar of 17 feet of wa­ter crash­ing through the city’s down­town on May 27, hear the deaf­en­ing pound of the rain, the crash of col­lid­ing cars, the wail of loved ones.

And then they need the gov­er­nor to imag­ine those sounds spread all across Mary­land and the world.

“How is this not cli­mate change?” asked shopkeeper Mo­jan Bagha last week, sur­vey­ing the dev­as­ta­tion of his Ori­en­tal rug shop after the sec­ond 1,000-year flood struck El­li­cott City in 22 months. “This much rain? It shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing.”

Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, is not re­spon­si­ble for the mind-bog­gling rain­fall and flood­ing. But I serve as an ap­pointed mem­ber of the Mary­land Com­mis­sion on Cli­mate Change, un­der the aegis of the gov­er­nor’s staff, and I have seen first­hand the gov­er­nor’s poli­cies that make Mary­land’s con­tri­bu­tion to global warm­ing worse. De­spite a pa­rade of sci­en­tists be­fore our com­mis­sion warn­ing that fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion is lead­ing to more dev­as­tat­ing storms in our state, Ho­gan re­cently ac­cel­er­ated his pol­icy of “kick-start­ing” greater com­bus­tion of fracked gas in Mary­land while ve­to­ing leg­is­la­tion pro­mot­ing wind and so­lar power.

But let’s step back: Sub­ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, while a fac­tor, can­not be­gin to ex­plain the scope of the El­li­cott City calamity. Newly im­per­vi­ous streets did not cause a bi­b­li­cal 8.4 inches of rain to fall in just a few hours on May 27. And noth­ing on the ground can ex­plain a sim­i­lar record rain event in July 2016. The chance of two 1,000-year floods hap­pen­ing in two years? More than a mil­lion to one.

Of course, no sin­gle weather event can be defini­tively tied to cli­mate change any more than a sin­gle cig­a­rette can be as­so­ci­ated with lung cancer. But the trends are sci­en­tif­i­cally es­tab­lished: The planet is warm­ing, trig­ger­ing greater ocean evap­o­ra­tion. The record-hot at­mos­phere is packed with that mois­ture, and sooner or later it comes down. Ex­treme pre­cip­i­ta­tion events such as the El­li­cott City floods are hap­pen­ing with 50 per­cent greater fre­quency along the East Coast, ac­cord­ing to data from the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion. And a 2014 fed­eral re­port says it is highly likely that heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tion events will in­crease across the coun­try be­cause of cli­mate change.

As Ho­gan knows — or at least his se­nior staff have been told by sci­en­tists in my pres­ence — cli­mate change is be­ing ex­ac­er­bated by emis­sions of meth­ane gas from the drilling and com­bus­tion as­so­ci­ated with frack­ing. In­deed, new iso­tope mea­sure­ments show fos­sil fu­els con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly more to the record lev­els of meth­ane in the at­mos­phere than pre­vi­ously un­der­stood — and nat­u­ral gas is the big­gest cul­prit. Each meth­ane mol­e­cule has a heat­trap­ping po­ten­tial up to 86 times greater than car­bon diox­ide. This is one of the rea­sons the Mary­land leg­is­la­ture banned fracked-gas drilling in our state in 2017. Ho­gan signed that bill.

But even as Ho­gan has laced up his work boots and re­moved de­bris from El­li­cott City’s streets, his ad­min­is­tra­tion has been ac­tively help­ing Cana­dian gas com­pa­nies side­step the drilling ban by im­port­ing fracked gas and pro­mot­ing its con­sump­tion. Ho­gan is part­ner­ing with fos­sil fuel gi­ant Tran­sCanada to pipe Penn­syl­va­nia fracked gas through Mary­land. He has a $100 mil­lion plan to “kick­start” even more gas use and more pipe­lines across the state.

Ho­gan uses out­dated data to claim that fracked gas is some­how a clean en­ergy. He ig­nores the avalanche of new data — from Cor­nell Univer­sity and oth­ers and pre­sented to the Mary­land Cli­mate Com­mis­sion — show­ing that fracked gas prob­a­bly is worse for the cli­mate than coal.

The peo­ple of Mary­land will pay. The more slowly we re­act to global warm­ing, the more floods will spread across the state. And Ho­gan will be left of­fer­ing more mean­ing­less speeches of care against a back­drop of gath­er­ing storm clouds.

The writer is di­rec­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work and a mem­ber of the Mary­land Com­mis­sion on Cli­mate Change.


An aerial view of flood dam­age in El­li­cott City on May 29.

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