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Study: Climate Change Raises Risks Of Power Outages

By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

BALTIMORE — With flooding already on the rise along the East Coast, a new study led by the Johns Hopkins University suggests that urban dwellers may have more to worry about from climate change than just getting their feet wet if they live near the water. People in some inland cities who think they’re safe from tropical storms could find themselves in the dark longer or more often.

In the December issue of Climatic Change, researchers suggest that increases in storm frequency, as predicted by some climate scientists, are likely to aggravate power outages in hurricane-prone areas like Miami or New Orleans. But if hurricanes become more intense, as many climate researchers expect, the study found severe outages could occur in areas that now suffer relatively few storm landfalls — such as New York, Philadelphia and Hartford, Conn.

“Hartford (is) not some place you’d think of being a particularly hurricane-prone place — until Sandy,” said Seth Guikema, an associate professor in Hopkins’ departments of geography and environmental engineering.

Recent studies have highlighted the flooding threats most U.S. coastal cities face from rising sea levels. A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for instance, noted that Annapolis and Washington already suffer relatively minor “nuisance flooding” more than 30 days a year. Given current trends, Baltimore could reach that tipping point by 2020, the report said.

Experts are still divided on how climate change might affect tropical storms, though. Some models indicate there could be fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic, but an increase in storm intensity in some locations. Other models suggest both the number and severity of storms could rise as the waters warm.

Guikema and four colleagues attempted to evaluate how much more vulnerable East and Gulf coast communities might be if climate change alters hurricanes in any way — their frequency, intensity or landfall. The researchers worked with a computer model that Guikema had developed earlier for predicting the likelihood of power outages from tropical storms. For this study, they ran a series of simulated storms through the model to see how power grid vulnerability was affected by the range of possible climate-change impacts on storm behavior.

“How much would our vulnerability (to blackouts) change if storms became more intense?” asked Guikema, posing one of the scenarios analyzed.

They focused their attention on power grids in 27 major cities from Maine to Texas, and came up with both expected and unexpected findings. New York City, hit hard by Sandy just two years ago, topped the ranking of places particularly vulnerable to more severe outages as storms intensify. But others at the top of the at-risk list were Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Fla., Virginia Beach and Hartford.

While portions of the Baltimore area seem to lose power whenever a big thunderstorm hits, the study found both Baltimore and Washington less vulnerable to blackouts from stronger hurricanes than many other major coastal cities.

Andrea Staid, a Hopkins doctoral student and the study’s lead author, suggested the two cities benefited by being a little inland from the Atlantic coast.

“Baltimore and D.C. are both protected — by the (Chesapeake) Bay and eastern Maryland,” Staid said.

Even so, Baltimore faces a 14 percent greater risk of residents’ losing power if storm intensity increases, the researchers found.

“We definitely have some risk from hurricanes here,” Guikema said. “We’re just not as sensitive to climate-change-induced changes in hurricane hazards as some other places like New York City.”

The study authors hope their modeling might help emergency planners and utility managers prepare their communities for what the future could bring.

“If I’m the mayor of New York or Con Ed or a utility provider for Philadelphia or Jacksonville,” Guikema said, “we might have a bigger issue with this than we realize. … Maybe we need to think about hardening our system.”

A Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman said the company has invested $3 billion in the past five years in upgrading the power infrastructure for its 1.2 million customers and plans to spend another $3 billion by 2018. As part of that, BGE devotes more than $30 million annually to trimming and removing tree limbs and trunks that threaten power lines in rough weather, said the spokesman, Aaron Koos.

“Our customers are seeing the benefits of these investments,” he added, “with the frequency of power outages down 30 percent and the duration of those outages reduced by 60 percent.”

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Maryland Legislators Pass Bill Barring Transgender Discrimination

By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE—Legislation barring discrimination against transgender people passed the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday, as the House of Delegates approved the bill after an impassioned debate. The vote sends the measure to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who said he will sign it.

The bill, approved by the House 82-57, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in housing and employment, in obtaining credit and in access to public accommodations. Five Maryland localities, including Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties, have similar laws. But the measure enacted Thursday provides statewide legal protection for an estimated tens of thousands of Marylanders who say they often experience harassment, discrimination and even assaults.

When the legislation is signed into law, Maryland will join 16 other states and the District of Columbia with similar statutes.

Proponents hailed passage as the culmination of more than a decade of campaigning to extend Maryland’s anti-discrimination law to cover transgender people. The campaign came after successful political battles to protect gays and lesbians and to legalize same-sex marriage.

“It is remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short period of time,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, chief sponsor of the Senate version of the bill and one of the Assembly’s openly gay members. “I think it sends (a message) that Maryland is a welcoming place for everybody. No matter who you are, you have the opportunity to live your life, to have a job, to have a place to live, to be able to go out and enjoy a meal.”

Opponents said the legislation will endanger women and children by making it easier for sexual predators to gain access to women’s restrooms or locker rooms.

“I think this really sets Marylanders back as far as our right to privacy when we go to different bathrooms,” said Del. Neil Parrott, a Republican. “Certainly it’s very concerning for children that when an adult parent lets his child go into the bathroom, and now there could be a man or a woman in the bathroom legally.”

Parrott, who was instrumental in petitioning same-sex marriage and two other laws to referendum in 2012, said he had not decided whether to try to put this legislation on the ballot.

But Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said she wasn’t worried, noting that voters had upheld all three laws in that referendum. She predicted Parrott and other opponents of transgender rights would face “an uphill battle” getting voters to overturn the transgender rights law.

“This is about discrimination,” Evans said. “It’s about people getting jobs and having apartments.”

Most of the lengthy, and at times heated, House debate focused on bathrooms. Delegates questioned how sexual predators could be kept out of women’s restrooms and dressing rooms if the bill becomes law. Critics proffered a string of amendments aimed at that issue, arguing that men wanting to assault women or molest children would dress up in women’s clothing or simply claim they “felt” like a woman to justify their presence if challenged.

“Please make sure women and little girls are in areas free of people who will do them harm,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican.

Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, floor leader for the bill, countered arguments to change or defeat the bill. She pointed out that the legislation would not apply to bathrooms or locker rooms in schools. Proprietors could exclude transgender people from women’s or men’s facilities by offering separate bathrooms or shower stalls curtained off for them, she said.

To other critics who mentioned news reports of women and children being raped in public restrooms, Pena-Melnyk countered that there was no evidence that transgender people have a propensity to commit crimes.

Del. Luke Clippinger, an assistant state’s attorney and chief sponsor of the House version of the bill, said there are already criminal laws on the books to prosecute anyone who might enter a women’s restroom or dressing room for prurient reasons or to assault anyone. The Democrat reminded lawmakers that the legislation would provide legal protection to a group of people now denied it.

Advocates for transgender rights estimate the legislation may affect 30,000 or more Marylanders. In a nationwide survey of transgender people, more than two-thirds of the 132 Marylanders questioned said they had experienced harassment or discrimination on the job, while 81 percent of those who’d expressed their gender identity in school said they’d been hassled.

A few delegates made clear they were philosophically opposed to the legislation or unwilling to accept changing gender identity as normal.

“We can pass all the bills we want, but we can’t change nature,” said Del. Emmett Burns, a Democrat who is a minister. He added, “My constituents think we have lost our minds.”

Photo: Michael Hilton via Flickr