The 2020s will be defined by how we come together to address the major issues that we face, such as public health, inequality and climate change. Sustaining our economic recovery with those issues at the core of the recovery will take a concentrated and collaborative effort between community members, climate advocates, labor leaders, legislators and many others.
Rethinking how we make decisions on energy generation and transmission is one way we can make a difference on these issues. That means considering climate change implications when making decisions about how we power our homes and businesses as we work to build a new clean-energy economy.
We are working with a coalition of environmental, labor and civil rights groups and others to push for legislation that would increase our focus on climate change. The legislation (HB298/SB83) is a commonsense measure that would update how the Public Service Commission regulates electricity and gas utilities in Maryland.
Unlike some other states, nothing in our laws requires the PSC to consider climate change when deciding whether to approve new energy facilities and infrastructure. The commissioners are required to take a number of other factors into consideration, but they are not required to factor in the impact of climate change.
This makes no sense as we confront a global crisis that is already generating major problems such as flooding and extreme weather. Climate change is here, and all of us must do what we can to mitigate the causes. In Maryland, that means the PSC should finally consider the climate impacts of new energy projects and take into account how new energy projects conform to our existing statewide commitment to reducing greenhouse gases.
We also recognize that people’s livelihoods are affected by these decisions. Our bill would also require the PSC to consider a project’s impact on sustaining fair and stable labor standards — to help ensure that such projects create family-supporting jobs with benefits.
The PSC approves energy rates charged by utilities, which in effect, guarantees profits for these utilities. It is only fair that the PSC consider how workers are treated in assessing new projects. Energy jobs in Maryland have traditionally provided well-paid, middle-class jobs with benefits. We want to preserve that going forward, and requiring the PSC to consider labor standards will help make that happen.
We both know we must act to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change while also protecting working people. This bill is an important step in that direction.
Last year, the General Assembly was on track to pass a similar piece of legislation, but the measure got shelved as the legislature adjourned early due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This year, Maryland has the opportunity to take this measure over the finish line.
The Maryland Senate recently passed this bill out of the Senate chamber, and we are hopeful that the House of Delegates will soon follow suit. This bill is a chance to ensure that future infrastructure projects will be beneficial to Maryland workers and considerate of the planet.
We are optimistic that lawmakers this year will think strategically about our future as we battle climate change – and pass this important measure.
— SEN. BENJAMIN F. KRAMER AND DEL. LORIG CHARKOUDIAN
The writers are, respectively, a member of the Maryland Senate, representing District 19 in Montgomery County, and a member of the House of Delegates, representing District 20 in Montgomery County.