Legislators in Annapolis have made it a goal to advance racial equity in Maryland this year – on many fronts. Our legislative leaders, House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, have each advanced agendas to elevate underserved communities and create new opportunities for people to build stronger, healthier lives.
These agendas touch on health care, housing, economic opportunity and many other issues, and are long overdue.
But we come together – a state delegate and an environmental advocate – to make the case that we must also act on climate change as part of a multipronged effort to address racial and economic disparities. That means passing the forward-thinking Climate Solutions Now bill.
The root causes of inequities throughout our society are deeply embedded and require significant changes to ensure that everyone can live healthy, safe and productive lives.
The speaker’s equity agenda and the Senate President’s Advisory Committee on Equity and Inclusion have recommended several much-needed environmental justice actions, ranging from broadening the mission of the Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities to ensuring that youth exposure to lead continues to decrease.
In addition to these recommendations, the committee also called out three additional pressing issues – addressing the reality that climate change will hit communities of color disproportionately, planting more trees in urban communities and providing new support to fenceline communities, those adjacent to environmentally hazardous sites, which are often home to Black communities or other residents of color.
The Climate Solutions Now bill would enable the General Assembly to meaningfully address each of these three concerns.
The bill will allow lower-income communities to take advantage of community solar projects by exempting them from personal property tax, making it more economical for these households to access solar energy. This will allow many more Marylanders to have affordable access to clean energy.
The bill also provides funding to plant five million trees by 2030 with 10% of the trees to be planted in urban, traditionally red-lined, communities. We know that trees help cool down neighborhoods, make them more livable and bring down energy costs. All people appreciate having greenspace or trees in their neighborhoods; this bill will help bring them to lower-income urban neighborhoods that have long gone without such amenities.
The legislation also calls on the Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities to determine the percentage of state funds spent on climate change that must go to environmental justice communities. This will help ensure specific actions to reduce pollutants are being targeted to high-risk communities – helping to undo generations of race-based decisions that have overburdened certain Maryland communities with environmental hazards.
More broadly, the legislation benefits all of Maryland by expanding the state’s commitment to clean energy and accelerating our timeline for moving away from fossil fuels. Climate Solutions Now will lead to a cleaner environment, forge a more sustainable energy future and ensure we as a state are doing our part to battle the global challenge of climate change.
The Biden administration has taken aggressive initial steps to advance racial equity for Americans who have been underserved and left behind. That includes making environmental justice a central part of their plan to combat climate change.
We applaud that approach in Washington and we are fortunate that our leaders in Annapolis are also acting to address both climate change and racial inequity.
This year, Maryland has the opportunity to pass effective legislation that addresses both. The Maryland General Assembly should proudly pass the Climate Solutions Now Act.
— BENJAMIN BROOKS AND KIM COBLE
The writers are, respectively, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, representing District 10 and executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.