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Energy & Environment

After Lengthy House Debate, Senate Committees Agree to Amendments on Climate Bill

Flowers bloom outside of the State House in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Senate is poised to concur with the House of Delegates’ version of a wide-ranging climate bill that aims to significantly reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions, as lawmakers race to beat a deadline to present bills to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to allow for an in-session veto override.

On Tuesday morning, the House gave final approval to a sweeping climate bill that would set the state on track to achieve net carbon emissions by 2045, after rejecting a slew of amendments attempted by Republican delegates.

“The bottom-line, core fundamental principle is this: we have to address global climate change, we have to clean the air, especially for impacted communities,” Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), the chair of the Environment and Transportation, said on the House floor Tuesday. “Trust me, this is not a quick transition, but what we have to do is point the ship of state in the proper direction and with this bill, we do that.”

The House had considerably changed the Senate’s version of the bill, so it will have to go back to the Senate for final consideration. The goal is to present the bill to the governor by the end of this week, which would force him to accept or veto the bill while the legislature is still in session. If vetoed, lawmakers could undertake an immediate override vote before the 90-day session ends April 11.

Bills vetoed after this legislative session cannot be overridden by the new batch of legislators who will arrive in Annapolis in 2023.

The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, sponsored by Sens. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and 25 additional senators, would expedite the statewide goal to achieve carbon neutral emissions to 2045, require large buildings to reduce their carbon footprint over the next decade and expand the state’s fleet of zero-emission vehicles.

The House’s version of Climate Solutions Now delays the date by which an interim greenhouse gas reduction goal — to reduce emissions to 60% of 2006 levels — must be met, from 2030 to 2031. It would also require newly constructed buildings to be prepared to switch to electric power and add biofuel (a liquid fuel produced from renewable sources like food and animal waste) to the list of considerations on the energy use of large buildings.

“I will support it,” Pinsky said of the amended bill at a Tuesday voting session of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. “It is not the bold step forward that I had hoped…those strides were greatly shortened by the short-sightedness of the House.”

“Still, this bill would make Maryland a leading state in taking aggressive actions on climate change,” he continued. “I think the efforts to weaken it and give in to the special interests were woeful in the House.”

Pinsky said he has not been able to get a “face-to-face” conversation with House leaders since the fall, despite several requests to do so. Pinsky added that he was particularly disappointed in the House’s decisions to remove the requirement for local school systems to decarbonize their school buildings and the House’s choice to acknowledge nuclear power in the clean energy transition. The Senate’s version of the bill had been neutral on the types of fuel that counted as clean energy.

The House’s version of the bill also preempts county authority to go further than the state law. The Senate’s bill had given local governments flexibility in setting their own building emission standards and considered the state target goal a “floor” instead of a “ceiling.” Montgomery County is considering toughening its emission reduction standards for large buildings in order to meet its goal of carbon-free emissions by 2035.

The Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee approved the amended bill in a 9-0 vote, with two committee members absent. A short time later, the Budget and Taxation Committee approved the bill 8-4.

The measure is expected to appear on the Senate floor for a final vote Wednesday.

Barve said that he looks forward to having the opportunity to override a veto before Sine Die.

“I think we have a great bill, and I look forward to using that as a basis for greater victories in the future,” Barve said.

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, which also considered the bill, said it was “not a silver bullet,” but a move in the right direction.

“Are we going to do something about [climate change]? Because this bill is trying to do something about it,” he said, during House debate on the bill. “The alternative is doing nothing, and I don’t think our constituents are going to stand for that.”

On Tuesday morning, Republican delegates introduced 18 amendments over a 3 1/2-hour debate on the House floor, contending that the climate proposal would decrease reliability in energy, raise energy costs to ratepayers and not make a dent in the global climate change crisis. Some argued that the climate change crisis was not real and that warmer global temperatures actually have some benefits.

Only two of the Republican lawmakers’ amendments were adopted, including one introduced by Del. Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) that would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to consider biofuels as part of the clean energy transition when they develop building emission reduction standards.

The other approved amendment was proposed by Del. Christopher Adams (R-Middle Shore) and adds the Secretary of Transportation to the “just transition employment and retaining working group” that would be established under the bill.

Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany) proposed an amendment that would direct Maryland to reduce statewide “net” greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 2006 levels by 2030, to clarify that carbon sequestration and carbon capture can be considered towards the state’s accelerated greenhouse gas emission reduction target. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide in the air, which is done by trees.

Barve called the amendment “well-intended,” but asked delegates to reject the amendment because it is difficult to calculate the sequestration of carbon right now, though there may be advanced technology in the future that changes that. “How many trees do you have to plant every year to overcome the carbon emission of an SUV? We don’t actually know,” he said.

Other failed amendments by Republican lawmakers include one that would explicitly allow buildings to use fossil fuel generators as backup energy, exclude crab picking houses and places of worship from meeting the new emission reduction standards for large buildings and require the state to generate at least 50% of the renewable energy used by the state by 2030.

At the end of the debate, Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) commended the minority party for participating in the debate. “The debate you engender makes our work product better, and I think that’s true of this bill,” Luedtke said.

“Climate change is real, it is a crisis, there is perhaps no state in the United States that will be more affected by it than we will because there is perhaps no state in the United States that is more closely tied to our natural environment than Maryland,” he continued. “If we do not address the climate crisis, we’ll face tremendous obstacles over the coming decades.”

Environmental advocates praised the House of Delegates for giving final approval to the bill, but said lawmakers will have to create more policies in the future to get the state to achieve the expedited greenhouse gas reduction goal.

“Setting the goal is just the start. The General Assembly will also have to pass the policies to achieve this goal. We see this as a commitment, a downpayment, on the policies to come. We are committed to helping them get there,” Josh Tulkin, the executive director of the Maryland Sierra Club, said in a statement.

Editor’s Note: This article was corrected to reflect that the deadline for lawmakers to present bills to the governor for a potential in-session veto override is Saturday.