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Energy & Environment

Hogan Environment Secretary Backs House Version of Climate Bill

House Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) chats outside of the Maryland Senate Office Complex in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Hogan administration on Friday endorsed the House version of a climate bill that is working its way through the General Assembly — but the ultimate fate of the legislation remains unclear due to differences between the House and Senate on some of the measure’s key provisions.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles wrote to House Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) Friday embracing the House version of the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, which he said provided “bipartisan, aggressive, and achievable solutions to the climate crisis.”

Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles.

In the message, obtained by Maryland Matters, Grumbles said the legislation that’s moving through the House aligns with many of the recommendations outlined in the administration’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan released earlier this year.

“By elevating the plan to enforceable law with urgent requirements and visionary goals we would demonstrate that Maryland continues to be a national leader with real and achievable commitments to dramatically reduce greenhouse gases and increase climate resiliency and environmental justice,” Grumbles wrote.

House leaders saw the administration’s endorsement as giving momentum to their version of the bill, which they described as a realistic but robust measure to combat climate change in Maryland.

Earlier this week, Barve’s committee took the Senate version of the bill, and removed some of its most aggressive provisions. Specifically, the panel changed a measure calling for a 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2006 levels to a 50% reduction. The House also reduced certain green building requirements and changed some of the funding streams required to achieve the carbon emissions reductions.

Both versions seek to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2045.

“We’re trying to write a superior bill that can actually pass without the science fiction 60%” greenhouse gas reduction levels, Barve said in an interview Friday.

Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the lead sponsor of the Senate measure, scoffed at the news that Grumbles had embraced the bill as amended by the House.

“What a shock,” he said sarcastically during an interview Friday evening. “The House adopted all the Republican amendments without the Republicans ever having to bring them up on the floor. They put in everything that the building industry and [the Maryland Department of the Environment] wanted.”

Pinsky also questioned how serious House leaders are about passing a climate bill, noting that the House Economic Matters Committee was scheduled to take up the measure on Friday but then didn’t have a vote. The bill cannot hit the House floor without the Economic Matters panel voting on it.

“It seems like they might be trying to slow-walk the bill,” Pinsky said.

Barve predicted such “teeth-gnashing” would be coming as his committee formally attached its amendments to the Senate bill on Thursday.

“It’s not the end of the story,” he told his colleagues. “There’s going to be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on this bill between now and Sine Die.”

Environmentalists generally prefer the bill that passed out of the Senate and are expressing hope that House members can be convinced to restore some of the legislation’s more aggressive provisions in the 10 days before the end of the General Assembly session.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the hard work that the House has put into moving this bill forward,” said Jamie DeMarco, federal and Maryland policy director for the CCAN Action Fund, the political arm of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “The House version has some strong provisions, including the retention of the net-zero goal by 2045, but we believe and are advocating that the bill needs to: Set a goal of 60% reduction by 2030, make schools and large buildings more efficient, and make sure we have designated funding for these programs.”

Pinsky said he’d be willing to hash out differences with House leaders but said that no one from that chamber has been in touch with him.

“I’m open to a conversation if there’s a reasonable conversation,” he said. “But so far I’ve heard crickets.”

Elizabeth Shwe contributed to this report.

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Hogan Environment Secretary Backs House Version of Climate Bill