Thursday, April 02, 2009

A New Environmental Policy for Delaware

First, I have learned the Collin O'Mara was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the next Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The policy he was hired to implement is summarized in the speech Jack Markell delivered last night to the Delaware Nature Society.
The speech lays out a new environmental direction for Delaware, not just in specific proposals, but in the way we think about policy:

Good evening. It’s wonderful to see so much energy in this room.
Let me begin by thanking you for your passion and advocacy for the issues that we all care about--I probably wouldn’t be standing here before you today without your support.
I am proud to have stood with you in support of off-shore wind power, and to have learned so much from you.
I am grateful for your support in the past and I look forward to continuing our partnership as we make Delaware a national leader in environmental sustainability.
I’d like to use my time with you today to tell you a little bit more about my vision for the environment in Delaware, especially how I see the intersection of environmental protection and economic development.
Let me begin by saying that my vision of creating a green economy in Delaware starts first and foremost with strong environmental protection--we can’t build the economy of the future unless we have the courage to clean up polluting industries of today. There are too many facilities either out of compliance or operating with expired permits--we must take action now.
We need additional monitoring and better scientific data to allow us to fully understand the magnitude of the link between pollution and health outcomes and take swift and appropriate action.
But bringing facilities into compliance alone won’t be enough, we must put policies in place that examine the costs of continuing the status quo by identifying harmful impacts of pollution.
Last April when I participated in a debate hosted by the Nature Society, we talked a lot about our aspirations and I said that "Delaware does not have, but sorely needs, a policy that puts our environmental health and welfare at the center of the public policy debate."
Over the past two months, I have begun to put this belief into action and transform the idea of making sustainability a central part of state government policy and leveling the playing field for clean energy from a campaign promise into meaningful progress.
For too long, we have not examined all of the costs of pollution in our state: healthcare costs, environmental degradation, infrastructure demands. These are real costs. They have real consequences and deserve real consideration.
That’s why I recently directed DNREC to intervene in Delmarva Power's Integrated Resource Plan with the Public Service Commission and I want to make this a standard practice going forward.
This type of economic analysis doesn’t just apply to energy policy, but should guide our thinking in many environmental areas. For example:
* Expanding recycling: despite the short-term economics of recycled materials, it will be much more cost-effective in the long-term to prioritize recycling instead of the purchase of another landfill site (assuming we could even identify one).
* Conserving land: calculating the true benefits of land preservation, including watershed management & water purification, wildlife habitat, local food production, and air quality & carbon sequestration (trees/soils) all have an intrinsic and economic value.
Of course, there are ethical reasons for protecting the environment, but I also believe that when we compare apples to apples, there are also strong economic reasons as well, and by taking this approach we will make the best decisions for the long-term future of our environment.
This type of economic thinking has shaped my belief that our effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can create unprecedented prosperity.
Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing the world today. The projections about the impact of sea-level rise from climate change on our great state alone should concern us all. While some have argued that we cannot afford to act because of the global economic recession, I agree with Sir Nicholas Stern who argues that the costs of inaction will vastly exceed the costs of acting today.
Now is the time for bold action.
Many of you have heard me talk about my approach as Climate or Sustainable Prosperity. The concept is that we can confront climate change and become more prosperous at the same time by using fewer natural resources.
Along with vigilant environmental protection, my strategy has three components: Green Savings, Green Opportunities, and Green Talent.
The goal is to create a functioning marketplace for green products that reduce energy and water consumption, adopt renewable energy, and reduce their vehicle miles travelled.
Through an array of programs and policies, we will incentivize residents and companies to adopt low-emission, sustainable practices as a way to improve their short and long-term financial bottom line. We will then connect this demand for goods with a supply of products and services from local companies and local workers.
As we address climate change, we cannot afford to trade our dependence on Saudi oil for dependence on Chinese solar panels, Japanese electric vehicles, and Scandinavian wind turbines.
We must also create economic opportunity here at home. I am confident that if we can approach these challenges holistically that we will not only improve the quality of the environment, enhance the quality of life for residents, and improve public health, but we will also seize the unparalleled economic opportunities that will emerge as we transition to a low-carbon economy and catalyze the growth of the industries and careers of tomorrow.
The first step towards achieving this vision is launching a campaign for energy conservation and efficiency.
Despite our State budget challenges there are substantial resources from the Stimulus Package, RGGI funds and the bonding capacity of the Sustainable Energy Utility, which will all support this statewide effort (Delaware Modernization Service). In the coming months, we will be announcing several exciting ideas around energy conservation and efficiency, some of which will require legislative changes, and I ask for your help turning these ideas into real results.
I will also be talking more about the concept of a “Green Dividend,” which proposes that promoting sustainable land use and smart growth policies can have an extremely positive impact on increasing the vibrancy of an economy and the sustainability of the natural environment.
For example, when people drive less or take public transit, they reduce their emissions and environmental footprint, but they also save money (gas, vehicle maintenance, etc).
Those saved dollars are then often spent in the community (retail, restaurants, small businesses), rather than leaving the region. Individuals commuting less also have more time to spend with their families, exercise, or other leisure activities, or they can increase their productivity hours--all of which improve their quality of life and potentially their health outcomes.
Fewer greenhouse gas emissions improve public health and air, water & soil quality, and help mitigate climate change. By tying together policies around the environment, economy, transportation, health, and agriculture, we will create a more vibrant and sustainable local economy.
Let me close with one last thought: Many of you know that Governor Peterson is one of my personal heroes and I have long believed that the Coastal Zone Act is the most important environmental and economic development statute in Delaware history.
I am reminded of his visionary leadership every time I travel the state, especially during my annual bike ride along the entire length of the state with my family.
Over the past several years, we have all seen more pollution, more roads choked with traffic, and more open space plowed under for sprawling development--now climate change threatens to irreversibly change our natural environment.
Allowing the status quo to continue will deprive future generations of Delaware’s unrivalled beauty and diverse ecosystems.
I am not willing to allow this to happen on my watch.
Just as Governor Peterson displayed bold leadership thirty years ago, the time has come for Delaware to take an active national leadership role in the fight against climate change.
We have extremely strong national partners in the White House with President Obama and Vice President Biden, but we must do our part here at home.
We must pursue a series of policies and programs that accelerate our efforts to end our dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate and adapt to climate change, while also creating a more sustainable economy.
We must take bold action around emission reduction, energy usage, green buildings practices, land conservation, waste reduction, wildlife protection, air, water and soil quality, and advanced transportation.
We must strive to become the first state largely powered by renewable resources. We must lead by example and show the path for governments, residents, and businesses around the nation to follow.
That said, change will not come easy. There are a lot of interests that will be committed to preserving the status quo.
But just as Governor Peterson had the strength to stand up to the Nixon administration and Big Oil with the steadfast support of organizations like the Nature Society, I too will need your support as we work to make Delaware a national leader in this effort.
The stakes cannot be higher, nor the challenges greater. While we cannot solve these global challenges alone, we must make sure that we do more than our part. We can build the Delaware that we all know is possible, but it is going to take all of us working together to achieve our common vision.
I look forward to continuing our work together. Let’s get to work!


Post a Comment

<< Home