Better late than never? The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) released a long-overdue climate action plan for the state, leaving some stakeholders questioning its viability and wondering how the goals ultimately will be met.
The 280-page plan was published about 14 months past its deadline, but it also sets ambitious goals for Maryland, including larger cuts to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than required under state law and a potential roadmap to 100% clean electricity.
When the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act (GGRA) was reauthorized in 2016, the law tasked MDE with adopting a plan by Dec. 31, 2019. The department published a draft in late 2019, but did not release its final plan until Feb. 19, 2021.
“This was time well spent,” Jay Apperson, a spokesperson for MDE, told pv magazine USA. He said that MDE continued outreach on the draft plan and updated models and policy scenarios to work toward greater climate goals. “The result is a plan that is probably the most detailed and number-crunched of any state in the nation,” he said.
Apperson said that Maryland continued to take “important actions” during the 14 months, including implementing and expanding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, joining a multistate clean trucks initiative, and enacting rules to phase out hydrofluorocarbons and reduce methane emissions.
The GGRA called for cutting state emissions 40% below 2006 levels by 2030. In its announcement, MDE said its final 2030 GGRA Plan outlines a path toward that target while also proposing a new goal to cut emissions by 50% by 2030. The plan also includes a longer-term goal of net-zero GHG emissions by 2045. MDE said that the independent Maryland Commission on Climate Change recommended the higher targets.
According to MDE, the 2030 GGRA Plan includes a range of programs across several sectors, as well as more investments for renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and other environmental initiatives.
MDE estimated that its proposals could lead to more than 6,000 new jobs and a $5.3 billion economic boost in the state by 2030.
As for renewables, MDE said the plan aims to build on the state’s current 50% by 2030 renewable portfolio standard. It also cited the proposed Clean and Renewable Energy Standard (CARES), legislation backed by Gov. Larry Hogan, to establish a 100% clean electricity by 2040 goal.
The CARES bill called for more solar, combined heat and power systems, new zero-carbon nuclear power, and natural gas or qualifying biomass power plants with carbon capture and storage. The bill failed to pass during a truncated 2020 General Assembly session; MDE said a revised CARES bill is slated to be reintroduced during the upcoming 2021 session.
MDE’s final plan has coal exiting the power sector by no later than 2030. “This is a change from the 2019 draft climate action plan, which shows the Hogan administration recognizes we need to move off of dirty coal,” said Josh Tulkin, state director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club. He urged the state legislature to pass the Coal Community Transition Act, a bill to shutter Maryland’s remaining coal plants and create new funding to help impacted workers and families.
With the 2030 GGRA Plan now finalized, some stakeholders have raised concerns about how specific goals, especially regarding clean transportation, will be realized. The delayed plan also includes programs and initiatives that have already been created or completed, suggesting some aspects of the plan might be outdated from the start. More broadly, local environmental groups signaled a need for certainty.
Kim Coble, executive director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters, told a local publication, “I am glad that they have put out something ambitious, but how do we know it is going to be implemented?”
And Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said, “The report often says ‘we will build on’ and then describes a program that already exists.”
Apperson said that the plan is intended to build on progress from Maryland’s existing actions by “continuing and improving those actions, and proposing new actions, so it includes a mix of existing and new programs.”
For example, he said the EmPOWER Maryland program is an existing energy efficiency program whose investments continue to reduce emissions for decades after they occur, so it must be accounted for in any forward-looking plan. He said the 2030 GGRA Plan proposes to extend that program beyond its current 2023 expiration date, and reform it to support “beneficial electrification of building heating systems.”
Apperson said the plan also proposed a number of measures that will need to be put in place either by regulation or by legislation.
The Sierra Club’s Tulkin cautioned that a plan is “only successful if it is implemented.”
“With the plan coming out a year late, there is an extra burden on MDE to demonstrate its commitment not just to setting these goals, but to achieving them,” Tulkin said. An early indication of MDE’s commitment will be how the agency engages with legislation during the upcoming 90-day legislative session.
“Where the plans fall short, we call on the General Assembly to take the lead,” he said. “Acting on climate is everyone’s responsibility.”
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