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Republican Co-Sponsors Bill To Close Maryland Coal Plants


While many Republicans have been in denial about the realities of climate science – notably the denier-in-chief, President Trump, who falsely labels climate change a “hoax” – Baltimore County State Senator Chris West is what you might call a fact-based Republican.

West, a 69-year-old resident of West Towson, is an attorney and former President of the Bar Association of Baltimore City.

He is co-sponsoring a bill, introduced on Friday in the Maryland senate, that would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the state by requiring a gradual shutdown of the state’s six remaining coal-fired power plants between 2023 and 2030.

“I’ll be honest with you,” West said. “I don’t want my grandchildren turning to their dad and saying, ‘You know, we’ve got this terrible environmental problem, and we’re facing daytime temperatures of somewhere between 105 and 110 degrees in the middle of the summer, what did Granddad do about this?’ And I don’t want my son telling my grandchildren, ‘Well, your grandfather – he didn’t believe global warming was real. And he did nothing.’ My feeling is, it’s pretty clear it’s real, and we need to do something.”

He added that he doesn’t much care if right-wingers try to primary him in the next election to punish him for his stance. He figures he’s going to do the right thing because it’s right, and then let voters decide who should represent them.

Nor does Senator West worry about Tweets from Trump, who promised to save the coal industry. Trump has failed in this because the industry is being killed by economic competition from natural gas, which has become cheaper because of advances in technology, namely hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

Here’s West talking about Trump. “He was running for a national office, and I guess he wanted the electoral votes of West Virginia,” West said.  “I am a Maryland state senator.  So I could care less about the electoral votes in West Virginia.”

Teaming up with Senator West in the Maryland House of Delegates, and championing the coal plant shutdown bill there, is Montgomery County Democrat Kumar Barve, Chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Barve noted that Maryland’s use of coal to generate electricity has already plummeted by more than half over the last decade. The state’s largest coal plant, Chalk Point in Prince George’s County, has already switched from coal-generating units to natural gas to save money. More than 500 workers are employed at the state’s six remaining coal plants, and their paychecks are tenuous, Barve said.

“All these people are going to lose their jobs over the next 10 years, even if we don’t pass this bill,” Barve said. “And so we are attempting to get them similar jobs outside of burning coal for electric power.”

To achieve this, the Barve/West legislation would set aside $16 million in taxpayer funds for job training and income supplements for coal plant workers to help them transition to new and more stable employment. The bill would provide funds to encourage clean energy businesses, and also help county governments offset the loss of tax revenues from coal plants.

Fighting the bill is the power industry.  Talen Energy, which owns the Brandon Shores and Wagner coal plants south of Baltimore, said in a written statement that the company “encourages the state to move cautiously to avoid potential impacts to electric reliability, the cost of energy to consumers, the future of the state, and the loss of hundreds of good paying jobs that cannot easily be replaced.”

In fact, coal plants can be replaced -- and are being replaced -- with cleaner technology right now across the U.S. What cannot be replaced are the thousands of people killed every year by soot and particulate air pollution from coal-fired power plants.  Also irreplaceable is our planet’s ecosystem, which is in peril.

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.