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Study Shows Sea-Level Rise’s Costs to Backyard of MD Lawmakers

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Many people think of climate change and sea-level rise as issues that may threaten future generations and far-flung locations.

But a Stanford University researcher recently published an innovative study that documented that rising sea levels, driven by global warming, for years have been eroding the annual revenues of businesses in Maryland’s state capital, Annapolis.

Researcher Miyuki Hino and colleagues studied decades of business receipts and parking lot records for shops and restaurants around the City Dock in Annapolis. They found a more than doubling over the last 20 years in the number of hours of lost business due to what is called “sunny day” flooding. That means high tides that creep up over the docks and flood parking lots and stores without any rainfall or high winds.

In 1950, there was no sunny day flooding in Annapolis. In 1997, businesses around City Dock lost 31 hours of business due to high tides literally lapping at their doors. By 2017, that total had grown to 66 hours.

”In 2017, high-tide floods reduced visits to downtown Annapolis, Maryland, by about 3,000 visitors,” Hino said. “And those 3,000 visitors equate to about $100,000 in lost revenue to 16 businesses.”

Just up the hill from City Docks in Annapolis is the Maryland State House, where lawmakers this week are debating whether to do something about this flooding and climate change.

A bill called the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act would require power companies in the state to buy half of their electricity from solar, wind or other renewable sources by the year 2030. That would be up from the current requirement of 25 percent by 2020.

The state Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 33-13 on March 18. A vote in the House has not yet been held. 

Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said there is a potential obstacle in the Democratic leadership of the House.

“Interestingly, some of the most affected people in all of Maryland from climate change right now are merchants in downtown Annapolis, shop owners who are literally being flooded by sea level rise,” Tidwell said. “And they are represented by the Speaker of the House, Mike Busch, an obviously powerful lawmaker who has not yet decided whether he supports this bill.”

Busch’s office did not return a call or email asking for comment on whether he supports the legislation.

There are other opponents of the bill, including many Republicans, some of whom say they are concerned about consumer electricity bills, which could rise by about five dollars a month by 2025.  Owners of a trash incinerator in Baltimore object to a provision that would strip away government subsidies for garbage burning as a “renewable” source of energy.

Representatives of Ocean City, Maryland, are fighting a part of the Clean Energy Jobs Act that would encourage the construction of wind turbines east of the town’s beaches.

“Ocean City, as this committee knows, is vehemently opposed to the location of offshore wind off the prestigious, pristine -- and only -- offshore that the state of Maryland has,” said Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist for the tourist town.  “It will very adversely affect the economy of Ocean City.

However, rising sea levels are also threatening businesses in Ocean City, just as they are in Annapolis. And those rising tides have inspired millions of dollars in ongoing taxpayer investments in Ocean City beach replenishment projects to shore up the town’s defenses against ever-rising waters.

A vote on the legislation is expected this week.


For a copy of Miyoki Hino’s study, visit: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/2/eaau2736/tab-pdf

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.