Opinion: Maryland Should Join Swell of Bipartisan Support for Climate Action
Last month, Massachusetts legislators and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) passed one of the most sweeping bipartisan climate bills in over a decade. Through negotiation and collaboration between the two branches, lawmakers were able to finalize a law which calls for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by mid-century. It also includes key provisions to ensure that emission reductions and investments are delivered equitably to frontline and environmental justice communities.
While we’re not seeing much collaboration across party lines in the nation’s capital, action on climate change and clean energy deployment is widely popular with voters and state policymakers from both parties. After years of mounting losses from rising sea levels and other climate impacts, the American public, state policymakers and the business community are coming together in recognizing the multiple benefits of tackling the climate crisis while driving economic growth and protecting underserved communities.
We’re seeing growing bipartisan collaboration for climate action in all corners of the country.
Last fall, Arizona regulators voted to move forward with establishing a 100% carbon-free electricity standard by 2050, the first state in the country where Republicans led a climate initiative of this scale. In Virginia, lawmakers from both parties recently approved plans to increase deployment of electric vehicles, which will increasingly be powered in the state by carbon-free renewable energy.
The common theme among all of these efforts is the economic benefits of climate action.
In Arizona, more than two dozen major companies and business associations repeatedly urged state leaders to adopt and finalize the rules as a way to build a resilient economy and attract investments. A carbon-free standard will build off Arizona’s current clean energy policies that have already delivered nearly $2 billion in net benefits, according to a recent Ceres report. A final vote to formalize the rules is expected this spring, cementing the state’s bipartisan commitment to a modern, resilient and affordable clean energy future.
Another ripe area for bipartisan collaboration is the Transportation & Climate Initiative Program. TCI-P aims to reduce transportation pollution across the East Coast by investing in public transit, electric school buses, EV charging stations, and walking and biking infrastructure.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are the first to join the initiative, but additional states — including Maryland — are considering the effort and are involved in designing the draft program. The program can also improve public health and start to close the gap on inequalities by expanding air quality monitoring, establishing equity advisory boards and directing investments to communities that bear the brunt of transportation pollution.
Maryland also had an opportunity this year to pass ambitious climate legislation (the Climate Solutions Now Act) that would align the state’s climate plans with the most current climate science by establishing a target of net-zero emissions by 2045.
Unfortunately, the legislative session adjourned before the General Assembly could pass the legislation, which also included important protections for underserved communities and additional investments in climate solutions — leaving a key policy opportunity on the table.
Without executive action, Maryland must wait another year before bold climate legislation can even be considered.
Like Massachusetts, Maryland is being pummeled by worsening climate impacts, including rising sea levels and more frequent flooding in the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding Eastern Shore communities. Without climate action, sea level is expected to rise by another two feet by 2050 and as much as 3.7 feet by the end of the century — a truly terrifying scenario for the state’s many low-lying communities.
Fossil fuel pollution from the transportation sector and local power plants are another climate-related threat. Maryland families suffer from some of the worst air pollution on the East Coast, much of it sulfur dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Child asthma rates in Baltimore are double the national average, with communities of color suffering the most.
If implemented conscientiously, policies like the Climate Solutions Now Act and the Transportation & Climate Initiative Program cannot only reduce pollution in these communities but can also bring more voices to the table in investing state climate funds in environmental justice communities and help create new jobs.
New jobs in fast-growing clean-tech sectors are another benefit of ambitious state action. Arizona’s clean energy efforts have created more than 18,000 new jobs in the solar sector alone. Massachusetts has over 100,000 clean energy jobs.
According to a recent analysis by the Maryland Department of Environmental Protection, a bold climate strategy in Maryland will create an estimated 6,000 new jobs and $5.3 billion of additional economic activity by 2030. Ensuring that many of these jobs help marginalized communities, as well as displaced fossil fuel workers, should be a top priority for lawmakers.
Ahead of the next legislative session, the Transportation & Climate Initiative Program is likely Maryland’s best opportunity for bipartisan climate action that will build an economically prosperous, equitable, net-zero emissions future for all.
–ALLI GOLD ROBERTS
The writer is director of state policy at Ceres, a national nonprofit that works to build a sustainable future.