Maryland advances supercharged climate action bill

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The Maryland Senate passed a climate bill that would boost the state’s current target to cut emissions, support rooftop solar and electric vehicles, and plant 5 million new trees, among other actions.

Two Republicans joined Democratic senators in approving the bill with a 34-11 vote on March 12. However, some lawmakers voiced concerns about certain goals and funding issues.

S.B.0414, the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, would require the state to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60% from 2006 levels by 2030. That’s a 20 percentage point increase from the state’s existing 40% by 2030 reduction mandated by a 2016 law. It’s also above a 50% goal the Maryland Department of the Environment recently proposed in its delayed climate action plan.

The bill would electrify the state’s fleet by requiring all new buses and light-duty vehicles to be zero emission.
The bill would require the state to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2045. To help meet its goals, the bill would increase statewide energy efficiency rules; electrify the state’s fleet by requiring all new buses and light-duty vehicles to be zero emission; mandate that most new state-funded buildings meet net-zero emissions standards; require the state to plant 500,000 additional trees annually for 10 years; and invest in frontline and disadvantaged communities through the creation of a climate justice workgroup.

To help encourage rooftop solar adoption, the bill would require new commercial and residential buildings with a gross floor area of 25,000 square feet or more to be built “solar-ready.” Buildings would need to be designed so that at least 40% of the roof area is free from obstructions and capable of handling a solar installation. A state department would be tasked with adopting the regulations by July 2022, and a local jurisdiction could exempt new buildings that meet certain criteria, such as having too much shade.

These climate actions would build on the state’s current 50% by 2030 renewable portfolio standard, a mandate Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed increasing to 100% by 2040. As of the fourth quarter of 2020, Maryland ranked 17th in the country for installed solar capacity with about 1.3 GW.

Praise and objections

The bill was championed by over 100 Maryland organizations, many of which belong to the Climate Solutions Now Coalition.

In a statement applauding the bill’s passage, Maryland League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Kim Coble thanked the senate for taking a “huge leap forward in correcting the long-standing inequity of climate pollution in communities of color and fighting climate change.”

Several Republicans, however, took issue with provisions in the bill. According to a local report, some senators argued that the 60% by 2030 GHG cut was overly ambitious, raised concerns that the tree planting could lead to deer overpopulation, and disagreed with the bill’s mandate to divert $15 million annually for the tree initiative from a fund dedicated to water infrastructure upgrades.

The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021 goes to the Maryland House, where a committee is considering a companion bill.

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