A Strange Occurrence: Little Opposition To A Climate Bill
In the world of climate related bills, it’s not often you hear of a legislative hearing that draws minimal opposition, or where labor and environmental groups agree to work toward the same goal.
Somehow, that happened in Annapolis Thursday.
Robin Clark from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was the first to testify before the Senate’s Environmental Affairs Committee in favor of the Climate Solutions Now Act. It’s a wide-ranging bill that aims to eliminate greenhouse gases in Maryland by 2045.
Clark said the provision requiring the planting of 5 million trees by 2030 could disprove the old adage that money doesn’t grow on trees.
“But in a way, money also does grow on trees,” she said. “Because trees can help support the state reaching its climate goals and reaching its water quality goals in a surprising and relatively cost-effective way.”
Then there was Staci Hartwell of the Maryland NAACP.
She spoke to a provision that empowers the state’s Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities to decide how much of Maryland’s climate funds would be invested in communities like Baltimore’s Westport in the shadow of the BRESCO incinerator.
“The bottom line is that fossil fuel pollution is contributing to the deaths of black people every day, and we need to act now, not next year,” she said. “This bill directly works to undo some of the impacts of environmental racism, and it also ensures that all future climate legislation will address inequities.”
Brigette Dumais, of 1199 SEIU, which represents health care workers, pointed to recent studies linking fossil fuels to climate change and public health crises.
“Public health experts agree that as climate change continues to warm the planet, we are at even higher risk of future pandemics,” she said. “As permafrost melts at alarming rates, dormant viruses and bacteria awaken and expose people to more illnesses.”
Among other things, the bill creates a work group of building trades unions, apprenticeship groups and non-union construction workers to make recommendations on workforce development and training for displaced fossil fuel workers.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, the committee’s chair, is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. The Prince Georges Democrat acknowledges there has long been friction between environmental groups and labor unions who fear job losses and his bill tries to account for that.
“And I think there has not been a systematic conversation, either nationally, or in Maryland, of how we deal with this transition,” he said. “I mean, what do we owe those people whose livelihood we could affect?”
The bill also increases the carbon reduction requirement set in a 2016 bill from 40% by 2030 to 60%.
Pinsky says that reflects new information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
“But you know, science is a hell of a thing,” he explained. “And the IPCC and the scientists are saying, if we want to stay below that 1.5 centigrade increase, we got to do a 60% reduction.”
The only opposition at the hearing came from Lisa May of Maryland Realtors. She said some commercial realtors fear they might not be able to meet the bill’s building code changes designed to promote more energy efficiency.
“So, just to sum up,” she told the committee, “we urge caution in placing new mandates on commercial building projects, until we see the full results of how COVID impacts the sector of the economy.”
But Jamie DeMarco, of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, spoke of the urgency to act.
He said recent satellite data showed melting polar ice caps and perma-frost that will lead to sharply rising sea levels, eight feet by 2100.
“That means people alive today will live to see Ocean City become just ocean,” he warned.