Collectively, the deep exhale we took when President-elect Joe Biden’s win was officially cemented by the Electoral College can’t be understated. The return to relative normalcy will be savored by policymakers and average folks alike; especially on climate, which according to a March Pew Research poll remained a top concern among Democrats even amid the coronavirus outbreak. However, even with Biden’s promises of a comprehensive climate plan, states will still need to wholeheartedly commit to their own climate plans if we hope to make sweeping federal legislation a reality.
Unfortunately, the Maryland legislative session in 2020 ended with no major climate legislation making it over the finish line. This wasn’t for lack of good policy proposals. Several key bills that got cut short in 2020 will be returning in 2021, and Annapolis legislators need to make sure that we don’t end the new session without their passage.
At the top of that list is the Climate Solutions Now Act, introduced by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, and Del. Dana Stein, D-Baltimore. It will require Maryland to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. This net-zero target is in line with internationally recognized scientific mandates as well as recent recommendations from the Maryland Commission on Climate. It also increases our interim emissions reduction mandate from 40% to 60% by 2030, making sure that our reductions stay on track with key international timelines. Beyond just setting targets, it strengthens our state’s current planning process — such as requiring use of best available scientific information, banning the expansion of highways and unproven carbon capture technologies as emissions pathways and adjusting the way we account for highly potent methane emissions.
The bill also takes several immediate climate-forward steps that create much-needed jobs. It mandates planting half a million trees annually over the next decade; 500,000 of which must be planted in underserved urban communities. It requires solar panels on certain new buildings, strengthens building codes to improve energy efficiency and increases required efficiency gains through the highly successful EMPOWER program. A new work group created by the bill will ensure that new careers in the clean energy sector benefit women, people of color and veterans.
And in keeping with the national dialogue on racial and economic justice, it comes with a heavy focus on investments in “disadvantaged” communities, a term yet to be defined in terms of climate change by our state. The Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, along with stakeholders, will be tasked with creating this definition as well as setting a baseline mandate for what percentage of all future climate spending should be allocated to those areas.
Equitable investment practices, as called for in the legislation, are ethically the right thing to do, and make for impactful climate policy. In California where similar mandates were set, the baseline goal was exceeded because the impact of those investments was highest where pollution was worst on the ground. Last year’s version of this common-sense bill garnered bipartisan support for good reason — it’s a logical next step for Maryland to stay relevant in our fast-changing economy.
Another common-sense bill returning to Annapolis is a climate and labor test for the Public Service Commission proposed by.Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Ben Kramer, D-Montgomery. The PSC makes decisions on energy investments that will affect our state for decades to come. With a strong need to reach net-zero emissions within the next 25 years, we need a PSC that takes this crisis seriously and keeps an eye out for impacts on labor while we make the transition to safer technologies. Simple, common-sense legislation like this will help ensure the different parts of Maryland state government are in sync on climate.
And finally, we need a mechanism to raise revenue from the polluters that have contributed to this state of climate emergency. The Climate Crisis and Education Act will generate much needed funds at a time when we can’t be certain what federal stimulus aid to state and local governments will look like. As noted in the name, a large percentage of these funds will be earmarked for investments in education, along with rebates to low-income households to ensure they are kept whole.
Ignoring the impassioned pleas of experts is how COVID became the crisis we face today. Maryland legislators should not make the same mistake with the climate. Here in Maryland we are especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming, with nuisance flooding, record-breaking heat and freakish weather already regular occurrences. We know from recent experience that climate legislation works. Maryland’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has reduced our emissions and has brought significant revenue to our state’s coffers. And the 2019 Clean Energy Jobs Act brought excellent job gains to the clean energy industry. Let’s build on those successes and make climate a part of our economic recovery right now by enacting these clear-win policies.