POLICY PAPER: CLIMATE ACTION

Introduction

Over the past decade, Maryland has made important advancements in climate policy. Still, there is a great deal we must commit to and honor in order to be consistent with scientific understanding and on the path to a clean, renewable, just and equitable energy future.  For instance: 

  • Comprehensively addressing climate change by reducing and eventually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the impacts of climate change, sequestering carbon in soils and forests, and adapting to those impacts that cannot be avoided. 
  • Adapting to the impacts of climate change includes ensuring local resilience against natural disasters through science-based planning and protecting public health, especially in the most impacted and vulnerable communities in collaboration with those communities.
  • As the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy occurs, addressing any disruption to workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries and provide economic security for workers and communities who may be harmed by changes to the economy, including loss of current industries, divestment and exclusion of unsustainable practices. 
  • Spurring the transition to a modern, resilient, and efficient grid that provides 100% clean, renewable electricity and accommodates distributed energy resources to increase reliability and resiliency. This transition should reduce long-term energy costs. Low- and moderate income households must be protected from any adverse effects of rate increases or rate structure changes by ensuring that their household bills are affordable.  Underserved communities should have equitable access to affordable energy efficiency and renewable energy. Energy sources built, generated, and used locally should be prioritized wherever feasible.
  • Creating an accessible, affordable and connected transportation system in Maryland, including bike lanes, walkways, and public transit that is emissions-free, accessible and affordable to all groups of people regardless of age, ability, income, race, or ethnicity. 
  • Retiring polluting facilities and infrastructure and preventing construction of new polluting facilities and infrastructure; give priority in these activities to reducing pollution in communities that currently bear disproportionate burdens of polluting energy use, production, transportation, and infrastructure. 
  • Addressing he 25% of Md. greenhouse gas pollution produced by emissions from heating and cooling of buildings
  • Drawing down excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by regenerating agricultural soils and government, commercial and residential land care; restoring and improving natural forests; and protecting and enhancing vital wetlands. 

States and cities wield real power over the emissions released within their borders, including from cars, power plants, factories, and buildings. Eight states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico now have 100 percent clean-energy goals (which may include nuclear), either through law or executive order, including California, Washington, Maine, and Colorado. As one of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Maryland, which is particularly susceptible to changing weather patterns, has a responsibility to lead with aggressive pollution reduction plans and policies, and to craft those policies with an understanding that not all communities are equally impacted by these issues. 

It is important for the state to take action because climate change impacts the public health of our residents, especially due to air quality; it impacts our healthcare costs; it affects our tourism and agricultural economies, including our food supply; it has a direct affect on our infrastructure, like roads and bridges; and, as the third most vulnerable state to sea level rise, it influences the very survival of our communities, not to mention the ecosystems we rely on, wildlife, and the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Most importantly, low-income communities will bear a disproportionate share of the impact of climate change and have fewer resources to cope.

On the flip side, promoting strong and equitable climate action means resiliency to already-changing weather; economic development, especially for small and minority-owned businesses; and creating good jobs, especially in manufacturing and construction; protecting ratepayers.

 

Fits & Starts: Milestones & Hindrances in Climate Action

Offshore Wind

The movement to build offshore wind in Maryland has been ongoing for more than a decade, from the passage of the Offshore Wind Act in 2013 after years of advocacy to the approval bythe PSC of two projects off the coast of Maryland and Delaware in federal waters. The Town of Ocean City and Rep. Andy Harris have been stalwart opponents of the projects, citing viewshed concerns, while environmental advocates have seen their resources diverted as they have fought repeated efforts to derail the projects. One of the two companies with offshore wind projects off of Maryland’s coast claims it is on track to bring the project online in 2024, eleven years after the General Assembly first passed the Offshore Wind Act. 

 

Greenhouse Gas Reduction 

In late 2019, MDE released its draft Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, which was almost a year later than mandated by statute under the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2016, which renewed the 2009 law and set a more robust goal to reduce climate-polluting greenhouse gas emissions statewide 40 percent by 2030.

At the time, the Maryland Climate Coalition outlined many concerns about the draft plan, including: 

  • Reliance on outdated science in critical areas and unproven technologies. For instance, it fails to put us on track to meet mid-century targets identified by international scientists as necessary to avoid the worst of climate disruption. 
  • Promotes unproven and highly questionable strategies, such as the idea that widening highways will result in lower auto-emissions.
  • Few clear policy specifics on how to achieve goals.
  • No community environmental equity analysis regarding the impact of the draft plan on communities of color, low-income communities, communities historically overburdened by pollution, and those historically underserved by our energy & transportation systems.
  • Suggestion that M.d will achieve 100% clean electricity while still burning fossil fuels.

A policy review from the Center for Climate Strategies — which has extensive experience working on climate policy with MDE — found that the draft climate plan is critically flawed and falls far short of what is needed to address the climate crisis. 

MDE released a final version of the plan in February of 2021. The final plan has coal exiting the power sector by no later than 2030 – a change from the draft plan. 

 

Gov. Hogan’s “CARES” Plan

The MDE draft greenhouse gas reduction plan also relies on the success of Governor Hogan’s proposed legislation called “Clean and Renewable Energy Standard” (CARES), which continues to rely on the burning of fossil fuels, and expanding nuclear power. The environmental community has expressed numerous issues with the plan, which suggests that Maryland can achieve 100% clean electricity while still burning fossil fuels, both coal and fracked gas, in power plants; relies on an abundance of unproven technologies that are not yet commercially available or economically viable; and maintains the dominance of a few big corporations over Maryland’s electricity supply. 

 

EmPOWER & RGGI

In 2016, the EmPOWER Maryland energy efficiency program, requiring the state’s utilities ramp up to 2% incremental savings per year, was codified, making us a national leader on energy efficiency. Passage of Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program in 2015 opened access to

solar for homes and homeowners that are not typically able to instal solar on their roof or yard, including strong support for low-income household participation in certain community solar projects.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Maryland has signed onto was rolled out in 2016 and in 2017, RGGI unveiled an even stronger program for reducing carbon emissions. The program will result in a 30% reduction by 2030.

 

Clean Energy Jobs Act

In 2019, Maryland passed its most recent, target-focused climate legislation related to the electricity sector, without Gov. Hogan’s signature. The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA)  increases the RPS, requiring the state to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030 and evaluate steps to reaching 100% clean energy by 2040 at that point. 

This follows legislation passed in 2016 to increase the RPS to 25 percent by 2020. 

The 2019 legislation creates a working group among government agencies and clean energy stakeholders to examine the best funding opportunities to invest in job training in the clean energy industry, and to remove barriers for entry in this industry by minority and women-owned businesses. In addition, it makes small minority and women-owned businesses in this industry eligible to receive dedicated funding for market growth through the state’s Strategic Energy Investment Fund.

 

Cleaning Up the RPS

Notably, CEJA passed without removal of the provision of Md. law that qualifies waste-to-energy as eligible for inclusion in the RPS as a tier 1 renewable resource, due to pressure from the House. The Senate has voted more than once, with bipartisan support and Republican leadership from Sen. Hough, to remove incineration from the RPS.

The communities that are most interested in “cleaning up” the RPS are often those who live near waste-to-energy facilities, like Wheelabrator in Baltimore. Advocates believe the Renewable Portfolio Standard has promised to invest ratepayers’ money into new and expanding renewable energy, but dirty energy sources hold it back from meeting that goal. A report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility finds that Maryland consumers have paid more than $200 million since 2008 for “renewable energy” from dirty energy sources. Some labor unions strongly oppose removing incineration, and Black Liquor, another so0-called dirty energy source, from the RPS. The tensions between Maryland’s environmental and labor communities on these issues run deep

In 2019, Luke Mill in Western Maryland, the only black liquor facility in the state, shut its doors abruptly, leaving its workers and the nearby towns in a lurch. In 2021, Chairman Davis and Chairman Kelly introduced a bill to remove black liquor from the RPS; the legislation passed. 

Baltimore’s BRESCO incinerator accepts refuse from the city and surrounding counties and pumps out noxious smoke laden with toxic chemicals that impact nearby low-income, largely Black neighborhoods — often leaving children with high rates of asthma and struggling to breathe.

One stat: A 2017 study shows that just one of the many pollutants released from Wheelabrator, fine particulate matter (PM2.5), has been calculated to cause $21.8 million in annual health damage to Maryland residents each year from respiratory problems, plus another $33 million per year to residents in six other states.

The fight against Wheelabrator is ongoing.

 

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change

Environmental leaders have engaged with the Maryland Commission on Climate Change even as they have remained skeptical of the work it has done over the years. Individual members of the Mitigation Working Group (including General Assembly leaders Del. Dana Stein and Chairman Paul Pinsky)  have issued more than one minority report.. In 2020, Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MD LCV) Executive Director Kim Coble agreed to co-chair the Commission’s Mitigation Working Group with MDE Chair Ben Grumbles.  

 

Coal Plants

Coal is a 19th-century technology leading to as many as 13,000 premature deaths and more than $100 billion in annual health costs across the country. In 2017, coal plants provided less than 13.5% of Maryland’s gross electricity consumption but were responsible for 75% of climate pollution from in-state electricity generators. Even running only 17 days a year, coal power plants are still the state’s most polluting energy source and the second largest source of air pollution in the state after traffic. Six coal plants in Maryland pumped out the same amount of climate pollution in 2017 as over 2,000,000 cars – that’s over 40% of the passenger vehicles on the road in Maryland. Nearly 300 coal plants across the country have retired or announced their plans for retirement — we need that same certainty in Maryland where our six remaining coal plants have no public plans for retirement. 

In 2021, Del. Benjamin Brooks of Baltimore City took the lead on the House bill. House Bill 66 and its crossfile were bipartisan bills that would have phased out Maryland’s coal-fired plants and established a Fossil Fuel Community Transition Fund and a Fossil Fuel Transition Advisory Council to mitigate economic impacts for displaced employees.But, as Maryland Matters reported, The Maryland Coal Community Transition Act of 2021 was withdrawn during a committee voting session so that “environmentalists and labor unions can continue to work together during the legislative interim on what a just transition from coal would look like.”

Now, the issues have been relegated to “summer study.” 

Maryland’s clean energy build-out schedule will provide more than enough electricity to replace all of Maryland’s electricity coming from our in-state coal-fired power plants. Many plant owners acknowledge coal is going away, and half of the plants have already announced retirement, but opponents of a firm phase out, including LIUNA and Smart Transportation, continue their fight.

 

Fracked Gas

Natural gas is made up of methane, a greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the potency of carbon dioxide. Methane is released when gas is fracked at the drilling site, in pipelines during transmission and distribution, and as it flows through compressor stations to its destination. There is leakage at each stage, from drilling it out of the ground to our stovetops.

In most U.S. states, clean energy sources, like wind and solar, are cheaper to produce than gas from fracking.

Gov. Hogan’s draft GGRA plan not only utilizes fracked-gas infrastructure but invests in more of it. Yet methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and investing in its infrastructure will only lock us into a dirty fuel source for generations to come. Furthermore, there is a reason Maryland deemed fracking to be too toxic for our state. It is deeply immoral to light our homes by pushing that pollution onto our neighbors in other states.

A 190 mile fracked gas pipeline is proposed for the Eastern Shore, starting in Rising Sun (Cecil County), passing through all Eastern Shore counties (except for Worcester), before crossing into Virginia. The Eastern Shore Pipeline would cross three waterways and is opposed by environmental groups in the state, but supported by major local entities–it would provide natural gas to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and the Eastern Correctional Institution, the County’s two largest employers. It will also receive biogas produced by the conversion of chicken manure. The Pipeline is advancing through the permitting process and has been supported by a majority of the Board of Public Works.

 

Nuclear Energy

The issue of subsidies for nuclear energy is in the news and will continue to be. Gov. Hogan touches on this issue in his proposed CARES climate legislation. Exelon, which has a deep reach across the state, is publicly saying that it is considering selling its nuclear portfolio to focus on its wind and solar assets. The environmental community holds different views on the issue of nuclear energy, but there is broad agreement that Maryland should not include ratepayer or taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power. Given the millions Exelon and other companies are spending in states to get even more in government subsidies, Maryland might see a similar push here.

Environmentalists argue that when we subsidize the nuclear industry, we are left with aging facilities and nuclear waste we have no way to dispose of. Currently operating reactors in the US are among the oldest in the world. The average age is 39 years old—and half of reactors are over 40. The reactors at Calvert Cliffs are among the oldest: 45 and 43 years, respectively. “Relicensing” of aging reactors is lightly regulated in the US. Reactors receive 20-year license extensions, with no physical inspections or safety tests. By comparison, every ten years, France requires months of physical inspections and safety tests. Reactors were not sited with climate disruption in mind. Yet, relicensing does not require addressing the dire conditions that are emerging, even for coastal sites like Calvert Cliffs. New reactors now cost 3-4 times more than onshore wind and utility-scale solar.

 

Building Sector

Buildings account for nearly 40% of climate pollution in the United States, with much of that driven by the burning of dirty fossil gas for heating and hot water. There is a strong public health argument to be made for getting gas out of homes, especially gas cook stoves: the short version is that the pollution from gas stoves often reaches levels higher inside homes than levels established by the EPA for outdoor air quality.

The Climate Commission’s Mitigation Work Group has a subgroup that held meetings on the issue in 2020 and the working roup provided recommendations on next steps for state, especially incentives for electrification through the emPOWER MD program

Environmentalists agree the GGRA draft plan needs more aggressive proposals for getting gas out of existing buildings. We must incentivize the switch of our existing buildings from gas-fueled heating and cooking systems to air and ground source heat pumps and induction cook stoves. Maryland must specify an explicit date by which we will ban fossil fuel use in new residential and commercial buildings and prohibit new natural gas connections in new buildings. We also need to retrofit roughly 40,000 homes/year in Maryland to make the envelopes far more thermally efficient and with highly efficient electric space and water heating to help us decarbonize the building sector by 2040.

Recently, natural gas interests have been citing biogas and “clean natural gas” as a solution to decarbonizing buildings. Earthjustice and Sierra Club released a detailed report on the fallacy of this concept.

 

Key Legislation

SB0083/HB0298 Consideration of Climate and Labor in Utility Regulation ✅ Passed

This bill requires the Secretary of Natural Resources to incorporate an evaluation of the impact of electric power plants on climate change into the Power Plant Research Program and requires the Commission to consider the maintenance of fair and stable labor standards and the protection of the global climate in supervising and regulating public service companies.

SB0199/HB0114 Transit Safety and Investment Act ✅ Passed

This bill requires appropriations in the State budget from the Transportation Trust Fund for critical operating and capital needs including requiring funding for the Purple Line.

SB0137/HB0334 Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act ✅ Passed

The bill requires the Maryland Transit Administration to begin purchasing zero-emission buses beginning in 2023 and requires a plan to convert the state bus fleet to zero-emission. 

HB1133 Urban Trees Program and Commission for the Innovation & Advancement of Carbon Markets and Sustainable Tree Plantings →Became HB991 Tree Solutions Now Act ✅ Passed

This bill establishes the policy to support and encourage tree-planting efforts, with a goal of planting and helping to maintain in the State 500,000 sustainable trees of species native to the State in underserved areas by the end of 2030.

House Bill 1007 Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems ✅ Passed

This bill would require 1% of the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) to come from geothermal energy produced in the state by 2028. In other words, it would create a “carve-out” for geothermal energy within the state’s top renewable energy tier under the RPS. There are already carve-outs for solar and wind.

SB65/HB875 Electricity – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Qualifying Biomass

✅ Passed

This bill will remove “black liquor” from eligibility for inclusion in the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard as a Tier 1 resource.

 

Bills That Did Not Pass in 2021

SB0414/HB0583 Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021  

This bill would have required the State to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 2006 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. *HB991, which passed, was amended to include the provisions from SB414 establishing the goal of planting and helping to maintain 5,000,000 sustainable trees.

SB0076/HB0033 Climate Crisis and Education Act

This bill would have established a greenhouse gas reduction target of 60% from 2006 levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2045. The bill also would have created a Climate Crisis Initiative in the Department of the Environment and a Climate Crisis Council.

SB0148/HB0066 Maryland Coal Community Transition Act of 2021

The bill would have prohibited carbon dioxide emissions rate from exceeding a specific limit for affected electric generating units and establish the Fossil Fuel Community Transition Fund to provide grants to impacted individuals and communities.

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