Senate climate bill set for House makeover as ‘submission’ deadline approaches

A group of conservationists gathered at Lawyers’ Mall and projected the phrase ‘electrify everything now’ with a photo of an electrical outlet on the State House earlier this month to urge lawmakers to adopt the Climate Solutions Now Act. Courtesy of Jamie Demarco of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

One of the most watched bills of the General Assembly session, the Climate Solutions Act Now, is due to be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Thursday after being passed in the Senate last week along party lines.

Even though the House has its own version of the heavy-handed legislation — cut into three parts — House leaders chose to use the Senate bill as a vehicle to put their own stamp on the state’s climate policy.

One change that House committees will almost certainly make — the bill must go through the Economics Committee as well as the Environment and Transportation panel — is to extend the date on which the ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of the bill must be achieved, from 2030 to 2032.

The Senate schedule “is akin to losing 50 pounds in a month,” said Economics Chairman CT Wilson (D-Charles). ” It’s doable. But it is difficult.”

A number of other changes are also possible in the House.

But as the 2021 version of the climate legislation crumbled on the last day of the legislative session due to irreconcilable differences between the Senate and House, leaders of both chambers this week expressed confidence that the House and the Senate would be able to reconvene and resolve their differences over the legislation fairly quickly this time.

“I’m optimistic,” said Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the sponsor of climate action. “We’re going to have a strong climate bill.”

Of the. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Environment and Transportation Committee, said he is working with the Economic Affairs Committee and other House leaders and hopes to move the bill forward quickly.

“It’s our plan to vote on [the legislation] this week and we are ironing out the differences between our two committees on the floor,” Barve said. “We hope to have a very good environmental work product.”

Hurry up. To get the bill through the Legislature in time for the “presentation” — with enough time for lawmakers to override a potential veto by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) before the end of the session — the two Chambers are expected to pass a uniform final version of the legislation by March 31. That would force Hogan to take a stand on the bill in time for lawmakers to override a possible veto before adjourning at midnight on April 11.

Hogan denounced the legislation two weeks ago as a “reckless and controversial energy tax bill”, a possible sign of his intentions.

Environmental advocates said they looked forward to any amendments delegates might make to Senate legislation to further strengthen the measure.

As currently written, the Climate Solutions Act Now of 2022 would advance the state’s goal of reducing Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions 60% below 2006 levels by 2030 and aim for carbon neutrality by 2045. These goals would be achieved in part by requiring large buildings – such as office buildings, grocery stores and multi-family residential buildings – to significantly reduce their carbon emissions by 2035.

The bill initially included provisions that would have established statewide building standards, prohibiting all newly constructed buildings from using fossil fuels to provide space and water heating. here 2024.

But amid strong opposition from utility companies and commercial property owners, Pinsky cut the bill’s most ambitious proposal and replaced it with one that requires the Public Service Commission Public of Maryland to determine if there is enough capacity on the electric grid to support an all-electric building code in the future and to present its findings to the Legislature by September 2023.

However, Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the bill should be more specific about what the study would accomplish and how the PSC would conduct the study to ensure that it is credible and enables the state to act. make progress on the electrification of existing buildings and newly constructed buildings.

Because buildings are a major source of greenhouse gases, it’s important for building owners to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels if the state plans to meet its climate change mitigation goals, say the ecologists.

The Climate Solutions Now Act, as currently written, states that “the intention of the General Assembly is that the State move toward broader electrification of existing buildings and new construction by the end of the year. ‘study”.

The bill also directs the Public Service Commission to require gas and electricity companies to develop infrastructure plans and determine the investments the state needs to make to support additional load. electrification of buildings and retired gas installations.

But Coble said that risks leading to a study that is biased toward utility companies. The PSC should not rely on analyzes performed by utility companies on the state’s grid capacity, but rather on projections from third-party consultants, said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club.

“Utility companies should provide information, answer questions, but not draw conclusions,” he said.

Specifically, the bill must ensure that the PSC provides ample opportunities for public participation, uses a wide range of data, and assesses electrification in multiple areas of the state, not just buildings, Coble said. The PSC should compare the state’s projected electricity delivery peaks and energy demand with historical rates, as well as consider the impact of energy efficiency in its study, she continued. .

“The worst case scenario is that after the 18 month study, the results are not credible because they are biased and not based on extended data, which would mean we would lose another 18 months,” Coble said.

The Climate Solutions Now Act would also require the state Environmental Justice Commission and the Maryland Department of the Environment to identify communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and allocate state funding for emissions reductions. for the benefit of these communities. It would also establish a climate justice corps that would employ young people to work on clean energy or climate mitigation projects in communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

Coble said an amendment defining “overburdened community” and “underserved community” would ensure that funding for these communities is consistent across all state programs and agencies.

Stakeholders are well aware of the failure of the legislation last year. But given the immediate climate emergency and the fact that it’s an election year, Coble said she doesn’t expect it to happen again.

“The legislature hasn’t passed real, comprehensive climate legislation since 2019,” she said.

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