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Climate activists play ‘show and tell’ by bringing electric trucks and a battery-powered school bus to Annapolis

Climate activists brought electric-powered trucks to the State House Monday to pitch legislation that would expand the use of zero-emissions trucks and other large vehicles in the state. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

With real-time evidence of climate change plainly visible — cherry blossoms blooming weeks ahead of schedule — environmental activists gathered in front of the State House on Monday urging officials to do all they can to promote the use of electric trucks and school buses in the state.

The rally came as lawmakers consider two bills to make it easier to use and pay for electric trucks — one sponsored by Gov. Wes Moore (D) — and as House Republicans seek to limit Maryland’s participation in an aggressive nationwide vehicle emissions program.

As Maryland seeks to boost its incipient electric vehicle infrastructure, environmental advocates are focused on the Clean Trucks Act of 2023, legislation from Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Sara Love (D-Montgomery) that would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to adopt a rule by the end of this year requiring vehicle manufacturers and dealers to sell an increasing annual percentage of zero-emissions trucks and school buses beginning in model year 2027. It’s modeled after California regulations that some other states are beginning to follow.

While trucks and large vehicles account for 9% of the vehicles on the road in Maryland, they contribute 21% of carbon pollution and 48% of particulate matter pollution, a key component of smog, the environmental groups said. Love recounted walking her dog in her neighborhood on Monday morning and being passed on the street by a diesel-belching 18-wheeler.

“For quite a while after that, I smelled it and I could feel it in my lungs,” she said. “That’s what we’re fighting against.”

Passing the legislation would prevent more than 116,000 cases of respiratory illnesses in the state through 2050, according to a September 2022 report from the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Several speakers at Monday’s rally cast the legislation as an environmental justice bill.

“We need and demand clean air to improve the health of our children and the quality of life in our communities,” said Linda Flores, a Spanish-speaking activist from Silver Spring with Chispa Maryland, an organization affiliated with the Maryland League of Conservation Voters that focuses on Latino communities. An interpreter translated Flores’ remarks.

But the measure also drew support from public health advocates, educators, students, labor leaders and the Maryland Truck Safety Coalition. The advocates brought an electric-power tractor unit for a semi-truck, an electric pick-up truck, and an electric school bus from the Montgomery County Public Schools. Several children were outfitted in cardboard school buses, while others waved signs in English and Spanish.

Love and three senators sponsored similar legislation last year, but it stalled. Augustine said this year’s legislative push will be aided by the fact that the measure will help the state reach ambitious goals in the Climate Solutions Act, which passed last year, and because the Moore administration supported it during Senate and House hearings earlier this month.

“The Moore-Miller administration shares the same agenda,” Saif Ratul, a deputy legislative officer for the governor said Monday.

Moore has introduced legislation that would bolster incentives for people and businesses that purchase electric medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks and charging stations. The bill would allow businesses that switch from fossil fuel-burning trucks to electric trucks to receive grants that cover 100% of the cost differential. The measure would also enhance incentives to install EV charging stations and would enable the Maryland Energy Administration to cover many of the administrative costs associated with the transition.

The bill is up for a hearing Thursday in the House Environment and Transportation Committee and on Feb. 28 in the Senate Committee on Education, Energy and the Environment.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters on Monday also pressed the state to provide an additional $21.5 million in funding for a grant program that the Maryland Department of the Environment is running to help school districts transition to electric bus use. Seven of eight Maryland jurisdictions that applied for federal funding to help with school bus transition were denied late last year, the activists said.

Republicans seek to scale back auto emissions standards

While climate activists are urging the state to take a more aggressive approach to combating carbon emissions in the transportation sector, all 39 House Republicans in Annapolis have sponsored legislation that would make it more difficult for Maryland to stay in a national vehicle emissions program modeled after California’s standards.

In 2007, Maryland began using California’s emissions regulations for all new vehicles as guidance for cars and light-duty trucks sold in this state. But during his final weeks in office, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declined to sign an order that would have kept Maryland in the multi-state alliance following updated California standards, as state environmental officials conducted a review of the new guidelines.

The Moore administration is expected to put the state back on the path for participating in the program, which would gradually scale back the number of gasoline-powered cars sold in the state. But Hogan’s inaction has resulted in a pause of at least one year for California’s auto emissions standards to apply in Maryland.

The legislation from the House GOP would make it even tougher for the state to follow California’s standards. It would impose several conditions on the state to continue participating in the multi-state auto emissions alliance:

  • The Maryland Department of the Environment would be required to conduct an analysis measuring the emissions rule’s impact on consumers and small businesses;
  • The bill would require a second analysis of the program’s impact on the state budget;
  • It would require the Department of the Environment and the Maryland Public Service Commission to prepare an analysis on the rule’s impact on Maryland’s electric grid;
  • And it would require the measure to be adopted by the General Assembly and not just ordered by the Department of the Environment.

House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany), the lead sponsor of the bill, said he and his colleagues don’t believe the state can completely do away with the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, which is one of the things the California standards require.

“The main thing is, we think it’s unrealistic to expect that Maryland can ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles altogether in this time-frame,” he said. “We just think it’s unrealistic to think that the electric vehicle market will hit a saturation point by 2035.”

With Republicans badly outnumbered in the General Assembly, the bill, which has a hearing in the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Friday, is unlikely to advance, however. Additionally, there is no Senate cross-file.

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Climate activists play ‘show and tell’ by bringing electric trucks and a battery-powered school bus to Annapolis