Beyond Coal: MD should shut down six obsolete coal plants

By Corey Johns.

It is time for Maryland to move on from coal power.

Maryland currently has six coal-fired power plants in operation. In the state legislature, there is a bi-partisan effort to gradually close all of them to move to clean and renewable energy production. Republican Senator Chris West has sponsored SB 887 in the Senate. House Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County, has cross-filed it in the House of Delegates as HB 1545.

Other Maryland legislatures should give great support to it.

The six coal plants remaining in Maryland produce the same amount of climate pollution as over 2,000,000 cars, five of them were operating with expired water discharge permits in 2018. Four of them were built during or before the Richard Nixon presidency with two of them being built under President Eisenhower. Three of them were operating without modern pollution controls that provide safeguards for smog-forming nitrogen oxides. Two of them are located at the same site in Northern Anne Arundel County, making the pollution even greater for that area, as well as southeast Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Maryland also has over 500,000 asthma sufferers, many of whom because of low air quality struggle to go outside on code red days. Eastern Baltimore County regularly has some of the worst air quality in the state, highest number of asthmatics, residents with lung cancer and other breathing problems. In for decades, eastern Baltimore County was home to a coal plant in Essex. That site has been shut down, but the double site in Northern Anne Arundel County is still contributing to the poor air quality. In Maryland, 88-percent of people live in areas with unhealthy air based on EPA standards. Eight counties in Maryland received an F smog rating from the American Lung Association.

Maryland is quite a magnificent and rare place when it comes to our natural setting. With oceans and beaches in the east, a mountain range in the west and a true natural treasure of a Chesapeake Bay in between, Maryland’s landscape is special and because the state’s relationship to our special landscape, Maryland should be a leader nationally when it comes to supporting environmental efforts to combat the climate crisis we are facing.

These six coal plants release many pollutants into the air, including Nitrogen, which washes out of the air in rain, falling or running off into the Chesapeake Bay. This pollution leads to algal blooms that absorb oxygen and create dead zones in the Bay that cannot support life.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a saved Bay itself is worth nearly $130 billion from increased property values and clean water that would attract more recreation, create more productive farms and help other industries that rely on the Bay.

In western Maryland, farming and tourism to many of the great natural sites are a large boost to the area’s economy. The eastern shore’s economy largely relies on the Bay, farming, and tourism. Protecting the environment to strengthen all of these industries and areas of the state is crucial and closing coal plants would be a huge step in that process.

Ridding Maryland of a coal energy grid would also help make other environmental advances that have been made more effective. Electric cars, for example, are a tremendous way to reduce carbon emissions, but at the same time, electric cars in Maryland are charged from a coal energy grid. Coal refining pollutes more than oil refining, making electric cars worse for the environment than gas-powered cars. This does not mean we should abandon electric cars or other similar types of environmentally friendly technologies that are powered off the current coal-powered electrical grid. It means we should be working to make all of these technologies that would help the environment work for their intended purpose.

And this bill would not just immediately close the coal plants, which operate less than 20 days per year and still pollute as much as they do. In order to protect workers, the plants would be phased out while resources are provided to workers as they transition to new jobs. If a plant closes now, all they have to do is provide 90 days notice with no resources for workers.

Recent poll results released by the Sierra Club show overwhelming support of Maryland voters to move away from coal, nearly 70-percent. Eighty-percent of Democrats, 68-percent of independents, and 54-percent of Republicans supported Maryland moving away from coal. Every county in the state had over 59-percent support with over 70-percent support coming from Prince Georges, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Charles Counties as well as Baltimore City. Baltimore County polled at 67-percent.

Maryland has two coal plants in Anne Arundel County and others in Montgomery, Allegany, Prince George’s and Charles counties. It is time to move toward closing them all and moving to different energy production.

The hearing for the Senate Bill was held on February 25 and can be viewed on the Maryland General Assembly Legislative Site here. The House Bill is being heard on March 5 and can be viewed here.

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