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It’s time to make Maryland a climate leader again

In 2022, we have the opportunity to reestablish Maryland as a national leader in the fight against climate change. Advocates and legislators alike were disappointed that major climate legislation did not make it over the finish line in 2021’s regular legislative session. In fact, House Speaker Adrienne Jones said just weeks later that this was her biggest regret of the legislative session. So it’s not surprising that climate advocates like the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund’s team and legislators such as Sen. Paul Pinsky, Chair Kumar Barve and Del. Dana Stein have been hard at work in the interim, preparing to come to opening day with a strong package of climate legislation.

The urgency has never been higher. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading scientific authority on climate science, recently declared that climate change is a “code red for humanity” and advised rapid reductions in emissions to avoid climate catastrophe. Importantly, the IPCC notes that wealthy nations must cut emissions by 60% below 2006 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

Currently, Maryland’s goals fall embarrassingly short, mandating only a 40% reduction by 2030. It couldn’t be more clear that we need to update the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) to match the urgency of the science and increase emissions reductions requirements to achieve 60% carbon reductions by 2030 based on 2006 levels. The 2022 policy will also direct Maryland agencies to estimate indirect (upstream) emissions and use the global warming potential for methane over a 20-year time horizon in estimating the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Once we have science-based goals for emission reductions, we need a plan to achieve those goals. In Maryland, our top three emitting sectors are transportation, electricity use and building fuel use. As we continue to make strides on electricity by implementing 2019’s groundbreaking Clean Energy Jobs Act, we must also enact a plan to address emissions in the other two top-emitting sectors: transportation and buildings.

Federal partners in Washington have opened up an important opportunity on transportation. The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $5 billion in new federal funding over five years for electric and low emission school buses, setting the scene for states like Maryland to act competitively for these funds. School bus electrification not only allows Maryland to lead by example but also allows us to target the vehicle emissions in areas most impacted.

Maryland has the nation’s second-worst air pollution from cars, trucks and buses, after New York State, and according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, gasoline and diesel emissions from buses disproportionately impact communities of color. As federal funds become available, it will be crucial for Maryland legislators to target those benefits to reach the communities overburdened with air pollution and the health impacts associated with it through budget amendments and other legislation.

With buildings, there is much more to do. On November 16, the Maryland Commission on Climate Change released its 2021 Annual Report and Building Energy Transition Plan, which recommends that all new construction in the state meet water and space heating demands with all-electric appliances no later than 2024. In addition to having significant climate and health benefits, all-electric new buildings typically have the lowest construction and operating costs and can help improve housing affordability.

To support the work of this comprehensive climate package, we need an electricity grid that can handle the many changes coming with a cleaner, greener economy. The Distribution System is the part of the energy grid that the State, through the Public Service Commission (PSC), regulates. How the Distribution Grid is planned and maintained will not only determine how reliable and resilient our energy system is but also whether we can reach our clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals. With federal infrastructure funds coming to Maryland, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for grid investments that will help us meet our state goals. Del. Lorig Charkoudian’s GRID Act aims to ensure the Distribution System planning process is done equitably and will produce the grid we need to have the reliable, just, future-oriented energy system that we want.

Finally, building off of legislation we passed last year requiring the Public Service Commission to consider climate and labor in decision making, Del. Regina Boyce will be putting forth legislation to direct all state agencies to consider climate, labor and equity in their decision-making processes. This transformational legislation will not only ensure our state agencies are aligned on climate goals, but will also center equity and labor considerations in state action.

2022 will be the year we set higher climate goals and layout an ambitious but necessary plan to electrify our state vehicle fleet, school buses and new buildings in a fair and just manner. As one of the most affluent and best-educated states in the nation and a low-lying state with more than 3,100 miles of shoreline, Maryland is uniquely situated as a state that is both particularly vulnerable to climate change and well-positioned to mitigate it.

Once a leader in climate action, Maryland is quickly falling behind. With federal infrastructure funds coming to states and a budget surplus in Maryland, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance our climate goals and set more ambitious ones at the same time. It’s time to make Maryland a climate leader again.

Victoria Venable is the Maryland Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and CCAN Action Fund.

Eye on Annapolis Summit This article is featured in The Daily Record's Eye on Annapolis Summit magazine that was inserted with the Wednesday, January 12, 2002 issue of The Daily Record.

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