The hottest environmental issue in the state is Marcellus Shale, and all the water and air quality issues that come along with that, but I would argue that land use is even more important in the long run.
About 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions are coming from the built environment – buildings, roads, parking lots, etc. This means that we can’t make any meaningful reduction in GHG emissions unless we change our building patterns.
The biggest culprit is low-density suburban sprawl. Transit-oriented multi-family housing requires much less home energy use and transportation energy use than conventional suburban housing:
The implication is clear – if we want to reduce GHG pollution, walkable multi-family housing needs to become a larger part of the housing mix, and low-density suburban housing needs to become a smaller part of the mix.
Housing is a heavily regulated sector, and the existing mix of regulations and subsidies leans heavily in favor of new suburban sprawl, and heavily against infill development in existing developed areas.
If we want to reduce GHG emissions, we need to shift the mix of regulations and subsidies to favor more transit-oriented multi-family development.
There are a number of tools state government can use to accomplish this. Martin O’Malley’s PlanMaryland is the gold standard. The state can take a Fix It First approach to infrastructure spending, and stop funding new highways and interchanges, or water and sewer lines for new greenfield development.
You can make municipal aid contingent on the adoption of county or multi-county zoning and land-use plans, or more by-right zoning, or on land value taxation. You can change the Municipal Planning Code to make regional planning bodies’ recommendations legally binding. You can leverage state funding to encourage congestion pricing in the biggest metros and use the proceeds to subsidize mass transit.
There are plenty of good ideas to choose from for state politicians interested in changing the built environment to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Hopefully the environmentalist candidate for Governor will include some of them in his platform.