Department of the Environment Releases a Climate Action Plan — 14 Months After Deadline

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The Maryland Department of the Environment released a 279-page report Friday outlining the state’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve net-zero emissions by 2045.

The climate action plan addresses a wide swath of sectors that are impacting climate pollution, including transportation, fossil fuel power plants, agriculture and waste management. Over 100 programs and strategies are mentioned in the report, some of which already exist and have been fully implemented.

The 2030 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act Plan comes after the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act was reauthorized in 2016, which required MDE to adopt a final plan to achieve climate goals by Dec. 31, 2019. MDE released a draft plan in October 2019 and published a final plan Friday.

According to the report, the GGRA plan would yield $5.3 billion in additional economic output and add over 6,000 new jobs by 2030.

Although the 2016 law called for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030, MDE decided to pursue a more ambitious goal — a 50% reduction by 2030 — in response to the Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s recommendations in its annual report last November.

The commission, chaired by Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, is responsible for advising the governor and General Assembly on ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change. It is made up of members from various state agencies, environmental groups, organized labor and business.

“This plan is ambitious and achievable, bold and balanced with over 100 actions that underscore the urgency for real and lasting climate solutions. Maryland’s long standing leadership is shown by being ranked the No. 1 state in the nation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy, according to the World Resources Institute,” Grumbles said in a statement.

“As the United States rejoins the Paris Agreement, the Hogan administration intends to keep the momentum going in Maryland with a bipartisan plan that builds upon our success and adds new measures across all sectors of the economy and levels of government,” he continued.

The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement on Friday.

However, the sweeping Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, the Climate Crisis and Education Act and other bills this session call for a more ambitious goal — a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030.

Acknowledging that fossil fuel burning power plants make up the second-largest sources of emissions in the state, MDE’s climate plan includes a strategy to achieve 100% clean and renewable electricity by 2040 — by reducing emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a coalition of 11 east coast states working together to reduce carbon emissions.

It also outlines the proposed Clean and Renewable Energy Standard, a bill that Hogan said would lead to 100% clean and renewable energy portfolio by 2040 in Maryland. It did not move out of committee last year.

“It is notable that the Hogan Administration’s climate action plan has coal exiting the power sector by no later than 2030. This is a change from the 2019 Draft climate action plan which shows the Hogan administration recognizes we need to move off of dirty coal,” Josh Tulkin, the director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

He urged the General Assembly to pass the Coal Community Transition Act, which would establish a timeline for the remaining coal power plants in Maryland to shut down and create a fund to assist displaced workers.

On transportation, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland, the report states that the state will continue to expand investments in public transit systems such as the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train, as well as bike and pedestrian infrastructure. It also says that this plan will “accelerate deployment of [zero emission vehicles].”

But specific policies to bolster clean transportation were not immediately clear.

“I am glad that they have put out something ambitious, but how do we know it is going to be implemented? What are the action plans that that’s going to occur?” said Kim Coble, executive director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

“The report often says ‘we will build on…’ and then describes a program that already exists,” Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, echoed.

Although the plan promises that the state will commit to public transportation, some were concerned about whether state agencies, namely the Maryland Department of Transportation, would be on board.

“We remain concerned that the Administration’s new climate action plan cites a commitment to public transit, yet MDOT was the sole opposition party to the Transit Safety and Investment Act from Delegate Lierman and Senator McCray,” said David Smedick, senior campaign representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign of Maryland Sierra Club.

The Transit Safety Investment Act would drastically boost spending on the state’s existing bus and rail system― an extra $634 million between fiscal years 2023 and 2026, according to fiscal analysts.

MDE’s climate action plan also describes programs that would help address environmental justice, such as community solar so that those who do not have rooftop space could also enjoy renewable energy, tree planting in urban areas to sequester carbon and keep urban areas cooler, and identifying underserved communities that could benefit from park land.

The Maryland Department of Planning will assist in incorporating environmental justice into policies, such as by providing data analysis or tools on identifying environmental justice communities, the report states.

There are legislative efforts to help push a plan like this along.

House Bill 503/Senate Bill 518, sponsored by Del. Patrick Young (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), would create an office of climate change in the governor’s office, which is critical to implement plan such as this one that incorporates many state agencies, Coble said.

The governor’s climate change office could oversee and coordinate all the state agencies outlined in the report and ensure that they are fully implementing the programs to reach the state’s climate goals, she said.

On changes to buildings in the state, the report referred to the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which had identified the first steps that the state could take to increase the use of efficient electric heat pumps to heat buildings. One step included reforming EmPOWER Maryland, a state initiative aimed at reducing Maryland’s electricity usage.

But “we need assurances and accountability that it will be implemented,” said Coble, who sits on the commission.

“The phrase ‘when fully implemented’ are the most important words in all 279 pages of this report,” Coble said.

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