Climate change and transportation were the two largest areas of failure for the 2020 General Assembly session, according to the latest annual report card of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
Most years, the LCV’s annual scorecard is a tabulation of legislative victories and defeats for the environmental community and a celebration of the movement’s most faithful allies in the legislature.
Because the General Assembly adjourned early due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the report card, released Thursday, gave a pass-fail score to the full General Assembly instead of grading each legislator on their commitment to the environment.
When a bill passed both chambers, the General Assembly received a passing grade. When a bill did not receive a vote in one or both chambers, the General Assembly received a failing grade.
This year, the General Assembly received passing grades in water, agriculture and resiliency legislation, but failed in climate and transportation, as no legislation passed that addressed these challenges.
“There is a direct link between people’s ability to respond to this virus and overall health and impact form pollution…and what surprised us the most is that absolutely no climate or transportation bill passed” out of the total 690 bills that passed, said Kim Coble, the executive director of Maryland LCV.
A bill that would have required Maryland to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 toward net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 failed in both the House and Senate. Likewise, a coal transition bill that would have provided worker protections and a date for closing the last coal-fired power plants in Maryland also failed in the House and Senate. The report highlighted the more than 100 layoffs that resulted from the closure of the coal-fired Dickerson Generating Station this summer.
Especially given the impact of COVID-19 in areas of high air pollution, the report also prioritized a bill that would have required the state to begin a plan to transition to electric buses, as well as another bill that would have given more funding to the Maryland Transit Administration to address its backlog of maintenance and operation needs. Both passed the House but not the Senate.
State legislators showed leadership when it came to addressing two crises, the pandemic and racial injustice, but “all Marylanders should be disappointed that the General Assembly did not respond to our third crisis – climate change and specifically its impact on communities of color,” Coble said.
“To make real progress in 2021, the General Assembly has to take meaningful steps to reduce the impact of climate change, especially through addressing transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas in Maryland. By doing so, these actions will simultaneously help address the pollution and other environmental burdens that disproportionately affect our low incomes communities of color.”
The General Assembly did receive a good grade for passing a bill that banned the use of chlorpyrifos, a toxic chemical in pesticides that is harmful to human brain development. However, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) vetoed this bill.
The main change to Maryland’s water policy was legislation that will preserve oyster sanctuaries — part of efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. A plastic bag ban that would have decreased the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and petroleum passed the House but not the Senate.
The report highlighted bills that passed to improve resiliency infrastructure around the state and the capacity to respond to major environmental events. But it also referenced a bill that would have required greater transparency to make it easier for Marylanders to find information on environmental agency decisions that did not become law.
Coble stressed that state legislators need to focus on environmental justice issues in the upcoming session, particularly on cumulative impact legislation that would require all environmental permits issued by the state to include an assessment of the potential impacts on surrounding communities.
“Recent studies have linked higher death rates from COVID-19 to areas with higher levels of air pollution, making us acutely aware of the effects that decades of racist policies, such as those that have placed industry and other sources of pollution on Black and brown communities have had,” said Ramon Palencia-Calvo, the Maryland program director of Chispa, LCV’s Latino Organizing Program for Climate Change.
He also said that Maryland’s Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, which has recently received criticism for its ineffectiveness, needs to be “reimagined,” have a stronger mandate and include real voices from impacted communities.
Although Maryland LCV did not grade each legislator on their commitment to the environment, the organization applauded legislators who sponsored and led key environmental bills: Sens. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), Malcom Augustine (D-Prince George’s), Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County), Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick), Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) and Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), along with Dels. Dana Stein (D-Baltimore County), Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), Marc Korman (D-Montgomery), David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), Terri Hill (D-Howard), Nick J. Mosby (D-Baltimore City), Jim Gilchrist (D-Montgomery) and Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery).