Senators see Inflation Reduction Act as inflection point for combating climate change in Md.
Maryland’s U.S. senators, Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D), hailed sweeping new federal legislation that will be heading soon to President Biden’s desk, and said it will have a major impact on combating climate change in the state.
Cardin and Van Hollen said Wednesday that the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed along party lines in the Senate on Sunday, will offer protections for the Chesapeake Bay, incentives to homeowners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their homes, make more money available for clean energy production, provide additional funding for conservation and climate resiliency programs, and boost environmental justice initiatives.
“It is an incredible bill,” Cardin told reporters on a Zoom call.
The measure is headed for a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday, where it is expected to pass narrowly, possibly also along party lines. Biden would likely sign the bill next week.
Cardin and Van Hollen spoke confidently about the bill’s passage — and predicted its impact will be felt fairly quickly in the state.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars in these programs will now flow into Maryland, and they’ll both protect the Bay and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Van Hollen said on the Zoom call.
While the full scope of the funding for Maryland agencies and initiatives isn’t yet clear, about $369 billion of the $700 billion legislative package are expected to broadly address climate change, and bill supporters say the climate measures could reduce U.S. carbon emissions by almost 40% by 2030.
Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, said The Inflation Reduction Act “makes record investments to address climate change from many angles.”
Cardin, as a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Van Hollen, an appropriator, both had a hand in crafting the legislation. Van Hollen was also a longtime sponsor of a measure, dating back to his service in the House of Representatives, that’s being incorporated into the legislative package: The creation of a federal green bank, which, he said, will help spur private investments in renewable energy and act as a “kind of multiplier at the national level.”
Maryland has a green bank of its own, the Maryland Clean Energy Center, that’s already seeing a boost in funding and responsibility through the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, which passed through the General Assembly this spring. Montgomery County also has a green bank, and a small Baltimore-based nonprofit, the Climate Access Fund, has effectively become a green bank, working with private industry to parcel out funding for clean energy grants. The initial $20 billion investment for the proposed federal Clean Energy Accelerator could eventually help all three state-based green bank expand their missions.
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Other provisions of the bill that could help boost the climate and environmental protection in Maryland, according to the senators:
- Funding that will offer tax incentives to homeowners who reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their houses through conversion programs like electrification, which, the senators said, would lead to reductions in utility bills;
- Funding to grow agricultural conservation and stewardship programs and initiatives that help farmers reduce runoff and other pollution on their land — Van Hollen said less than 20% of Maryland farmers’ applications for these programs have been granted in recent years;
- Increased funding for the state’s five national wildlife refuges.
The Inflation Reduction Act isn’t just about climate change, however. The senators said it will provide added security for Marylanders who receive health insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act, will reduce prescription drug and insulin prices for some, and will better enable Maryland’s four historically Black colleges and universities to compete for federal research dollars.
Even with the bill’s passage in sight, Maryland climate activists and public health advocates are scheduled to get together Thursday morning in Baltimore, outside the Episcopal Archdiocese of Maryland, to urge its passage. Cardin and Van Hollen will be joining them, along with former state Del. Aruna Miller, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski (D), and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D).
“I must tell you, this has been a historically productive time for the United States Congress,” Cardin observed Wednesday. “Recognize that the Senate’s 50-50, Republican and Democrat, that the House has the slimmest of Democratic margins, and yet we’ve been able to get significant bills through the Congress and to the president’s desk.”
Asked why Biden’s poll numbers remain low despite the burst of Democratic legislative successes on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, both Cardin and Van Hollen sounded hopeful about the looming midterm elections.
“We’ll let the midterms speak for themselves,” Cardin said, “but as Democrats, we’re optimistic.”
Van Hollen, who has headed the House and Senate Democrats’ campaign committees in prior elections, predicted that voters would appreciate Democrats’ attempts to solve the nation’s problems.
“Elections are about choices,” he said. “While our Republican colleagues in the Senate are talking a lot about inflation, they haven’t worked to do anything about inflation.”