Climate Bill Dies as House and Senate Fail to Compromise

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

An effort to reconcile the competing versions of major environmental legislation collapsed in the final hours of the General Assembly session Monday night, rendering the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021 dead.

Less than three hours before midnight, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the Senate sponsor of the bill, told the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that the House had rejected his “compromise proposal” for the wide-ranging climate bill.

“It was take it or leave it,” Pinsky said in an interview minutes after the announcement. The House “eviscerated the original bill” and climate activists would have been disappointed supporting something that “didn’t move the needle too much,” he continued.

Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, told Maryland Matters that he tried reach a compromise, but “in the end [Pinsky] was offering budget breaking proposals that were not backed by science or engineering analysis.”

The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, as amended by the House, included a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that is 50% lower than it was in 2006 by 2030.

The Senate had initially proposed a 60% reduction goal, different green building standards, required energy efficient school buildings and alternative funding streams to reach the more ambitious emission reduction goal.

Both versions of the bill called for net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, or offsetting the amount of emissions produced and amount removed from the atmosphere by 2045.

The House of Delegates had struck all school provisions, changed green construction goals and added a commission on solar land use, among other changes. The chamber sent the amended bill back to the Senate chamber on Saturday.

Among the compromise provisions that Pinsky proposed to the House on Monday night was an alternative greenhouse gas reduction target: a 60% reduction from 2006 levels by 2035, instead of 2030, as the Senate version of the bill originally envisioned. Barve said this goal was not supported by an analysis by the Maryland Climate Change Commission. The House version of the bill called for a 50% emission reduction by 2030.

Instead of requiring new school buildings to be carbon neutral, Pinsky also proposed that two of the first six new schools to be built in Maryland must have solar panels or geothermal energy. Barve said this would be too costly for school districts. However, he did say that Pinsky’s proposal to have all new schools prepared for solar was a “good proposal.”

Pinsky also proposed to keep his original energy efficiency building standards unless a study finds that they are not cost effective for reducing emissions. Barve said the House believed that there should first be a study and then implementation.

To protect low income energy assistance programs, which Barve contends the original Senate bill would have jeopardized, Pinsky proposed that half of the Strategic Energy Investment Fund go to climate and the other half to low income energy assistance. Barve said anything that cuts energy assistance to poor Marylanders is “totally unacceptable.”

Barve said the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, tried to broker a compromise in which the emissions reduction goal would be raised to 51% by 2030. The compromise also included a change in the composition of a proposed commission on solar panel siting, but Pinsky did not accept it.

“Too little and much too late,” Pinsky told Maryland Matters of the proposed compromise. The House “had five weeks to pursue a collaborative effort. Seventy-five minutes before adjournment is way too late to get anything turned around. I have to ask how genuine the effort was.”

But Barve disagreed. “We’ve been in constant communication and [Pinsky] knows it,” he told Maryland Matters.

Moments before Pinsky announced that the Climate Solutions Now Act was not going to pass, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) urged a compromise on the bill in a video released on Twitter.

She lauded the Environment and Transportation Committee members for creating a “practical, science-based bill that stands up to scrutiny.”

“I certainly hope the disappointing over-the-top rhetoric of a few doesn’t sink this critical legislation. The time for posturing is over. Let’s get this done,” she continued.

Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City), who was appointed to serve on a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences on the bill — which never met — said she was “very disappointed” that the House was not willing to accept the compromise, as she has gotten many emails from constituents about how essential the bill was for the future of the planet and for young people.

Even if the two sides had agreed on a compromise late Monday, it wasn’t clear whether there would have been enough time to draft the provisions into an amended bill and gotten them to the House and Senate floors for a vote before the clock struck midnight.

But not all climate action ambitions were lost this legislative session, as some portions of the original Climate Solutions Now Act were salvaged in two bills. Last week, Pinsky tacked the entire portion of his legislation calling for 5 million tree plantings onto a House bill that deals with forest conservation, which made it to the governor’s desk Monday.

Additionally, a bill that requires the Maryland Transit Administration to purchase more zero-emission buses included some portions of Pinsky’s climate proposal. It cleared the House in a 101-33 vote Monday.

“We tried to find a path forward that worked. We just couldn’t find the right solution,” said Del. Dana L. Stein (D-Baltimore County), the House sponsor of the bill. “Everyone who has worked on this had the same goal. We just couldn’t agree on all the specifics. We’ll come back next year.”

Pinsky said he did not feel the “urgency” from the House. “The storms are increasing, the flooding is increasing. We can’t just follow maintenance strategy; we have to do more,” he said.

Environmental advocates were disappointed about the failure of the bill.

“For the second year in a row, legislators were not able to pass a comprehensive bill that would adequately address the climate crisis,” Kim Coble, the executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “The 2045 emissions-reduction goal would have served as an important target to measure progress against, and would have made Maryland a leader in the nation in the fight against climate change.”

Although Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he was “disappointed” that the climate bill did not get through, he noted that “some of the core components did move forward.”

“I think we will be able to enter the ’22 session with a bold and robust package,” he added.

Barve said that he is committed to working over the interim and next year to achieve what Pinsky had originally proposed.

“I sometimes feel like the only Democrat who didn’t like that bill was [Pinsky],” Barve said in an interview. “Everybody else would have been perfectly happy to vote for [the House amended climate bill] and go the next step next year.” But since the sweeping climate proposal failed this year, “we’ll just have to do it all next year,” Barve said.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

[email protected]