After the Associated Press called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden on Saturday, environmental advocates in Maryland and across the country exhaled a sigh of relief.
In just four years, President Trump rolled back more than 125 environmental protection policies, lowering limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and diesel trucks that warm the Earth and weakening regulations on mercury and other toxins.
Maryland environmental advocates are hoping Biden will help Maryland address climate change, environmental justice and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Biden’s climate plan includes investing $2 trillion over the next four years to support the use of clean energy in transportation and buildings. In fact, the plan aims to reach a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. Biden has also promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change, something that could happen quickly after he takes office.
Maryland’s own goal of reaching 50% clean electricity use by 2030 is something that the Trump administration’s “pro-gas fanatics” have tried to make difficult for the state to reach, said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
“The climate plan that [Biden] and Kalama Harris ran on is extraordinary,” Tidwell said. “You would be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars coming into Maryland over the next four years for things like electrical vehicle charging stations, investments in electrifying buildings like heat pumps, using electricity and geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings.”
Even if the Democrats do not win a majority in the U.S. Senate, Biden’s climate plan can still achieve a lot, advocates said.
“President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris ran on the boldest climate plan ever advanced by any Presidential ticket in history,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Their victory signals a mandate for action no matter what happens in Congress-or who is in control. We look forward to the new administration investing in renewable energy, public transit, and zero waste initiatives while centering Black and Brown communities which have disproportionately borne the brunt of pollution.”
Although fossil fuel plants have been shutting down, Tidwell wishes Biden’s administration would also phase in a nationwide gas fracking ban and shut down all coal plants. Turning to wind and solar power is important, but so is closing existing fossil fuel infrastructure, he said.
In August, the operator of two coal-fired plants at Chalk Point Generating Station in southern Prince George’s county announced plans to close them by next year. They are also stopping coal operations at their power plant in Dickerson, Montgomery County.
Because thousands of miles of Maryland shoreline are subject to flooding and sea level rise, addressing climate change in the state is urgent, said Kim Coble, the executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. Trump’s failure to recognize the urgency of halting climate change was possibly the “most damaging” of all his environmental rollbacks, Coble said.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases in Maryland, so increasing access to transit, increasing funding for transit and replacing old buses with zero-emission buses in are all critical for Maryland to achieve its clean energy standards, Coble said. “We really feel that the climate action plan put forward by Biden is in alignment with our priorities at the state level as well.”
Environmental justice issues have not had as high a profile in Maryland as nationally.
Maryland’s Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities has been under attack from advocates for failing to advance policies to protect communities that have suffered from or been vulnerable to pollution or other negative environmental impacts.
Biden made environmental justice a big element of his climate plan, promising to establish an environmental and climate justice division within the U.S. Department of Justice and to overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office to ensure that it addresses communities with the worst impacts of climate change.
Working mostly with Latinx communities in Maryland, Ramon Palencia-Calvo, who is deputy executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, believes the new administration is “a positive development” for addressing environmental injustices in Maryland.
“Their commitments to transitioning to a zero-emissions economy and the potential benefits for [frontline] communities – that is really exciting,” said Palencia-Calvo, who leads work for Chispa, an arm of the league that aims to address environmental issues facing Latinx communities. “We have the wind behind the sails, those issues are back to the forefront and we want to make sure we take full advantage of that on passing some meaningful environmental justice legislation here in Maryland.”
Palencia-Calvo said it is important to think of ways in which communities that have been overburdened by pollution can become the center of investment during the transition to clean energy, such as by creating new clean energy jobs.
Latinx communities have been the target of many attacks from the Trump administration and those attacks have contributed to an atmosphere of fear that has discouraged community members from engaging with environmental justice issues, Palencia-Calvo said.
“We look forward to being able to participate without having that fear from those attacks. That is very important, and that relates to not just the environment but other social issues that really concern Latino communities and other communities of color.”
Water and the Chesapeake Bay
Environmental advocates are also hopeful about Biden’s platform on safe and clean water.
Kathy Phillips, executive director of Assateague Coastkeeper, said it would be satisfying to see Biden issue a series of executive orders that undo the Trump administration’s “many regulatory roll backs that put our communities, our water and our air in jeopardy.” Of concern, Phillips said, are Trump’s rollbacks on the Clean Water Act’s WOTUS (Waters of the United States) rule, meat processing inspection regulations and production line speeds, and National Environmental Policy Act regulations for air emissions from animal feeding operations. And “I could go on…,” Phillips said.
Clean Water Action’s Maryland director Emily Ranson is also optimistic that the new administration will reinstate water protections; their rollbacks are now being challenged in court.
“Our team canvassed hard against Trump’s Dirty Water Rule only for the administration to pass it anyway, and we look forward to its repeal and a return to protections for our streams, wetlands, and rivers,” Ranson said.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of 17 independent waterkeeper organizations, which has been in litigation with the Trump administration over the past four years, expects that Biden would reverse the rollbacks. Their priorities include restoring a science-based definition of the “waters of the United States” in the Clean Water Act, as well as restoring the state’s authority to protect its waterways.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker said in a statement that he has not witnessed more setbacks in environmental protections in his 40 years of working for the Bay than during the Trump administration. “We are counting on the Biden administration to reverse the damage and make saving this national treasure a priority once again,” he said.
Simply being able to work with elected officials who respect the mission of halting climate change, as opposed to “climate change deniers” of the Trump administration, will be refreshing, Coble said.