On Climate Change Action, the Differences Between Maryland and Virginia Couldn't Be Greater


Having lived in the DC metro region for a few years now, I’ve noticed there is a bit of a rivalry between those who live in Maryland and those who live in Virginia (don’t get me started on those who live in DC).  Virginians gloat about the lower tax rates and generally better public school systems while Marylanders take pride in their more progressive state policies.  As a Virginian myself, you can put me down for Team Virginia.  But I’ll freely admit, however, that when it comes to acting on climate, Maryland leaves us in the dust.

Storm surge flooding on Dock Street in Annapolis in 2010 (photo credit: Chesapeake Bay Program)

Marylanders and Virginians alike already are experiencing and seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand.  According to a recent survey, 52 percent of Marylanders see evidence that climate change is already harming people, and over 80 percent agreed that it should be a high priority of state and local governments to protect water supplies and public health from these threats.  Similarly, 85 percent of Virginians reported that climate change is happening and majorities of those surveyed indicated that extremely hot days and intense storms are becoming more frequent.

However, despite the effects of climate change happening all around us, Virginia state agencies largely are sitting idle while state agencies in Maryland are acting.  During the release of our Ready or Not report last year, I wrote about the stark differences then between these two states on climate change preparedness.  Since then, Maryland has taken additional steps to plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change while Virginia state legislators wasted time over whether they should use the words “climate change” and “sea level rise” in a study about coastal flooding.  Even after voting to fund that study, Virginia state officials appear to be content with letting that information gather dust on a shelf somewhere and not acting on the study’s final recommendations while coastal cities like Norfolk continue to struggle with rapidly rising seas.  Many state legislators in Richmond also want to keep clinging to the same dirty sources of energy that are wreaking havoc on our planet. 

In sharp contrast, during that time Governor O’Malley of Maryland signed an executive order directing state agencies to reduce coastal flooding risks to state buildings and public infrastructure, and the state’s climate change commission recently released updated sea level rise estimates to help decision-makers plan.  The governor also is hosting a climate change summit this week. 

While both states face many of the same climate risks, from rising seas to more heavy rainfall events to flooding and even drought, their response (or lack of response in Virginia’s case) could not be more different.  With a wide variety of resources available to help states plan for a changing climate, such as our Getting Climate Smart guide, there are no excuses left for states like Virginia to not be planning and preparing. 

The debate on which state is better will continue but when it comes to acting on climate change, there’s no question that it’s Maryland 1, Virginia 0.