By Carol M. Browner | Originally published in the Capital Gazette
The Biden administration has set an ambitious goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 to combat the climate crisis. Maryland’s Department of the Environment has proposed a plan for accelerating emissions reductions in the next decade to reach an even more ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2045.
Across the United States and in states like Maryland, achieving “net-zero emissions” is often invoked as a tool to address the climate crisis. But what does that mean, exactly? Put simply, reaching net-zero means the amount of greenhouse gases we produce is equivalent to the amount we remove from the atmosphere. While reaching net-zero isn’t a silver bullet, it is one of the most achievable goals we can set to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, including a significant increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, natural disasters and rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities across Maryland and around the world.
As the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, I witnessed the need for tech-inclusive climate solutions to meet bold and necessary emissions reduction standards. Over time, we’ve made incredible progress in developing renewable and carbon-free energy resources that can help mitigate the worst effects of climate change and chart a path toward net-zero emissions, while protecting access to reliable energy — but we still have further to go.
Making net-zero emissions goals a reality requires using every tool available — including our nation’s most reliable and abundant source of carbon-free energy, our existing nuclear power. Fortunately, this carbon-free energy is already a significant part of Maryland’s energy mix. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant provides 81% of Maryland’s carbon-free clean energy and 41% of the state’s energy overall. Nuclear energy also saves Marylanders an average of 6% on their electricity bills and generates nearly $23 million in state and local taxes while supporting nearly 1,200 in-state jobs.
It should come as no surprise, then, that nuclear energy provides significant benefits to the state’s environment, economy and public health. The Brattle Group recently published a report that demonstrates without nuclear power, energy costs would increase by at least $47 million annually. Furthermore, Maryland would see annual carbon pollution increase by about 4 million tons — that’s the emissions equivalent of about 800,000 cars every year. The price tag of this increased pollution would exceed $2 billion. Including the additional costs tied to public health consequences, such as air quality-related impacts like increased asthma attacks, would push the number even higher.
When we consider that more than 70% of Marylanders live along the coastline — leaving most of the state’s population especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change — the price tag of removing nuclear power becomes even more untenable. The consequences will affect people’s homes, communities, and local economies, so it is imperative that we work quickly to identify feasible solutions that leverage all the carbon-free energy sources at our disposal.
Maryland stands at a crossroads in its clean energy transition. The good news is that the consensus on climate has perhaps never been greater, and Maryland is no exception. Ninety-one percent of Marylanders say it’s important for state officials to enact policies that reduce carbon emissions. If the state is going to meet its aggressive emissions reduction goals, then existing nuclear power must continue to be part of the solution alongside renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
Marylanders are ready for a clean energy future. Reaching net-zero is a worthy goal, but it will be difficult to achieve. As our journey toward making these goals a reality continues, we can’t afford to take our largest source of carbon-free energy for granted. We must aggressively pursue tech-inclusive climate solutions, including expanding renewable energy and preserving our existing carbon-free nuclear power supply, to achieve a cleaner, safer future for everyone.
Carol M. Browner is the former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a member of the Nuclear Matters Advocacy Council.
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