The county didn’t know yet where the millions would come from, and that’s in part why it turned to Van Hollen (D-Md.).
“Your bill is about funding this stuff, right?” the county’s public works director, Chris Phipps, said to the senator, standing on the bank of the Weems Creek.
Called the Polluters Pay Climate Fund, the money could then go to localities like Annapolis and Anne Arundel for projects to tackle climate change, and to pay for protections against rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Van Hollen introduced the bill Aug. 4, with co-sponsors including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
“The whole idea behind the bill is pretty straightforward, for the same reason you were filing your lawsuits,” Van Hollen said at a news conference at Annapolis’s City Dock after his tour of the flood plain, joined by Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, both Democrats. “Those companies that contributed most to spewing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and causing the impacts of climate change, they should have to share in the cost of the cleanup.”
Annapolis and Anne Arundel County sued the 26 major oil and gas companies in state court in February and April respectively, accusing the companies of “decades of deception” about their impact on climate change that taxpayers are now having to pay for in the form of expensive flood-mitigation projects. They joined jurisdictions including Baltimore and D.C. in going after the fossil-fuel industry in similar lawsuits; Baltimore’s case now rests before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit over a procedural issue, in what could serve as a test of the success of others like Annapolis’s.
The oil companies have argued that state courts are not the appropriate venue for the lawsuits, and that the suits will only waste time and money while doing nothing to address climate change.
Van Hollen said his bill was not meant to be an alternative to litigation but rather is intended as an additional tool to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.
Coastal communities like Annapolis could use all the help they can get.
The sea level on the Maryland coast could rise nearly two feet by 2050 and more than four feet by 2100, according to projections from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. To prepare, Phipps said the county projects it will cost more than $240 million to elevate roads in flood-prone areas, and another $140 million to retrofit culverts beneath the roads.
Down at City Dock — where flooding is a persistent headache for local businesses — it will cost roughly $60 million to raise the entire dock by at least 6 feet, with the addition of other flood barriers. The city will also add a new parking garage to eliminate other concrete lots in exchange for grassy areas, to more effectively absorb floodwaters.
“The costs are real to us,” Buckley said. “We are having to fortify. We are having to do things we wouldn’t have had to do if the sea level wasn’t rising. And those numbers are astronomical.”
If they don’t urgently address the threats, he said, “we are going to be underwater.”
Ryan Lamy, owner of Pip’s Dock Street Dogs, said flooding can cost him up to $3,000 a month in lost business. His restaurant is right on Dock Street, just across from Ego Alley, filled with parked boats and milling tourists in the heart of historic downtown Annapolis.
But when it floods, the water lurks out of the storm drains, hops the curb and, eventually, seeps into Pip’s.
“A lot of times it would be ankle-deep. Mid-shin deep. Knee-deep. It depends,” Lamy said. “You could see it getting worse year after year after year. It might have been a couple times a month when we first opened [in 2009].”
By 2019, he said, it was happening up to two or three days a week. Storm drain pumps installed that year have allowed for temporary improvements, he said.
Rain makes it worse — but mostly it’s the tidal surge, he said, meaning even sunny days can be dampened by floodwaters. In planning documents for the City Dock project, city officials said the dock flooded more than 50 days a year.
Construction on the City Dock project, starting with the parking garage, is expected to begin in January and could take more than two years to complete.
Van Hollen said the project to elevate the City Dock is exactly the type of project he hoped the Polluters Pay Climate Fund could help if it were to pass, while anticipating the county and city could use some money from the infrastructure package passed in the Senate last week for road and culvert improvements. That measure is awaiting action in the House.
He said he is hopeful that the Polluters Pay Climate Fund Act can be attached to Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation package — which Democrats can pass without a single Republican vote. But Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who has been protective of the fossil-fuel industry, may pose a hurdle, and discussions remain ongoing.
“Like the mayor said, they’re moving forward, but they’re going to need to have the funding for it,” Van Hollen said. “We should be asking those who contribute most to the sea-level rise to help pay for the damages being done.”