Defining climate change generated some heat between a Republican and a Democrat at Monday night’s Baltimore County Council meeting, but not the way you might think.

Republican Councilman Wade Kach, who represents northern Baltimore County, wanted to add an amendment defining climate change to routine flood ordinance. The legislation would update the county’s flood ordinance to match Maryland’s.

Kach fiddled with the language on the fly at the meeting, eventually settling on the following: “A long-term change in average weather patterns that is observable through the simultaneous rise of — including but not limited to — global average temperatures, sea levels, extreme rainfall events, nuisance flooding, erosion; the causes of which can be natural, such as including, but not limited to, changes in the sun’s activity, variations in the earth’s orbit, or large volcanic eruptions, and since the 1800s have also been driven by human activities.”

Councilman Pat Young, a Democrat who represents the Catonsville area, was quiet during the debate over the language, in which his fellow councilmen questioned whether a specific definition would harm homeowners seeking insurance claims and whether it was necessary. But when it came to a vote, Young was the lone “No.”

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All six of the present councilmen voted for the flood ordinance bill. Republican Todd Crandall, who represents Dundalk, was not present and did not vote.

Young’s district touches Ellicott City in neighboring Howard County, which endured two major floods in recent years, and he said he has no doubt climate change is real and caused by humans. The problem, he said, is that he received no notice of the change.

“I’ve been consistent over the last 15 months now. If I don’t see it, I don’t vote for it,” he said. “I didn’t see any language. I don’t know what it looks like, and then you amend it on the fly.”

Young said the move flies in the face of promises from the council’s new chair, Izzy Patoka, that the governing body in one of the state’s largest jurisdictions would be more open and provide written notice of the items on which the council was expected to vote. Kach, for his part, acknowledged that he should have provided a definition in advance.

Patoka said this exchange was part of the growing pains in becoming more open. “This is a very thoughtful group, and we are moving that needle in the direction,” he said. “In the future, you are going to see a level of openness you have not seen from the Baltimore County Council.”

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Young also worried that having the definition in flood maps but not having it in other pieces of environmental legislation might cause a consistency issue, and that the definition would have to be amended as time went on and new climate change catastrophes emerged, similar to the atmospheric river phenomenon causing extreme flooding in California.

Councilman Mike Ertel, who represents the Towson area and is an insurance agent, said he didn’t think the language would affect claims, but he also didn’t think it was necessary. Ertel, though, said he voted for it in part because of the “optics” of voting against a climate change definition. The current council, he says, agrees that climate change is real, human-caused and requires attention. But in a county split between Democrats and Republicans, that hasn’t always been the case.

Kach, for his part, said that Young’s worry about a shifting vocabulary to describe climate-related disasters as well as a possible future change in the council was exactly why he felt the flood ordinance needed the amendment.

“That is exactly why I wanted to do it — in case things change.”

Rona Kobell is a regional reporter at The Banner focused on Baltimore County.

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