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Climate Solutions Bill Advances

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Official portrait
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Senator Paul Pinsky

The State Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a wide-ranging bill that aims to eliminate greenhouse gases in Maryland by 2045, but not before beating back a string of Republican amendments.

The amendments ranged from changing the source of money for an ambitious tree planting program in the bill to requiring all new schools to be built with solar panels to scaling back the greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Republicans argued that the provision that would use $15 million from the Bay Restoration Fund to plant 5 million trees would jeopardize water and sewer projects in their districts.

Sen. Michael Hough, of Frederick County, argued that rather than use Bay Restoration Fund money, which is to pay for upgrades to water and sewer improvements, the money should come from the General Fund. He said there are towns in his district with brown water because of aging pipes.

“There's a priority of public health, but also for the environment,” he said. If the pipes that carry water and sewer aren’t repaired, thousands of gallons of raw sewage spill into the Potomac and Monocacy rivers.

But Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince Georges Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said the law already gives priority to water and sewer projects and that many of the projects local governments seek funding for are not cost effective.

“If the maker of the motion believes there should be more money going to some of these small towns because it's not getting funded, I would urge them to make the request to the governor and put it in the budget for next year,” he said. “I’ll support it.”

As a follow-up to Hough’s amendment, Sen Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican, pushed an amendment that would have required the state Department of the Environment to list all the applications that local governments have submitted and their status.

“Our concern is not even so much for the things that are currently being funded or even right about to start and are in planning,” he explained. “It's the ones that are waiting to get word, the ones that are applying, and ones in the future that would apply in some of the communities in the towns that we've talked about.”

Pinsky noted, however, that the law already requires such a list.

Another provision in the bill requires that one in five new schools built in each county have net zero emissions. Sen. Chris West, of Baltimore County, called for a change that requires all new schools to be built with solar panels.

He argued it would be better to have those panels on the $2.2 billion worth of schools the state plans to build over the next 10 years than spread out over the countryside.

“The question is do we go down the right road or the wrong road?” he said. “I submit to you that the wrong road is turning acre after acre of Maryland's farmland into industrial land covered by steel and silicon panels. I submit to you that the right road is to install solar panels on the roofs.”

Pinsky said such a requirement would eliminate other potential energy saving methods, such as geothermal, and could put smaller counties, such as Allegany and Dorchester in a financial bind.

“So, by requiring and adopting this amendment, you're tying the hands of your school system and your counties to pursue one direction which in the long run might save them less money,” he said.

Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, of Baltimore County, called for scaling back the ambitious goal of a 60% decrease from 2006 levels of greenhouse gases to 50% by 2030. Current law calls for a 40% reduction.

That effort failed as well. The bill moves on to a final vote in the coming days and then to the House where a similar bill is in the works.

 

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