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Councilman Conway introduces bills to reduce Baltimore’s greenhouse gas emissions

A smokestack in Baltimore. On Monday, Councilman Mark Conway introduced legislation aiming to lower the city's carbon footprint.
Tony Gonzalez/Flickr
Baltimore City Hall.

Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway introduced a package of bills inspired by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s grim August report, which found that global warming is accelerating due mostly to human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.

“We have to do everything we can do now to address climate change,” the freshman Democrat said.

The first bill aims to convert the city’s fleet of vehicles to zero-emission — that is, electric cars that produce zero tailpipe emission, such as some plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars.

The bill calls for half of the fleet to be zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and the entire fleet to follow suit by 2040. Maryland already has a plan to work toward a fully electronic fleet by 2040.

“One of the biggest and most obvious ways that we can have an impact on reducing carbon emissions as a city is to really look at our fleet,” Conway said, adding that he has had preliminary discussions with staffers of the city Department of General Services who said the 2040 deadline is a reasonable goal.

Conway’s second bill would require new buildings partly financed by city funds to have cool roofs — that is, low-slope roofs that are Energy Star rated as highly reflective. Such roofs reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat, allowing them to stay more than 50°F cooler than standard or dark roofs, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

“Having a reflective surface can be so cheap or simple as painting that roof white,” he said.

Exceptions noted in the bill are roofs in buildings that support living vegetation, such as greenhouses and roof areas that are used as outdoor recreation space, such as roof patios.

Conway’s third bill would require Baltimore’s operations to have net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. He framed it as an action that would bring Baltimore up to speed with other cities that have made commitments to reduce their carbon footprints, such as Boston and Seattle.

“We don’t have time. We can dawdle here, or we can begin to make significant moves toward reducing our carbon footprint so that our children, my children, your children can have an opportunity to have a sustainable future,” Conway said.

In other action, the council advanced two bills from Councilwoman Odette Ramos that aim to reduce the amount of Baltimoreans who face tax sale, an annual event in which the city recovers lost revenue by auctioning property liens off to third-party investors. A bill to create monthly payment plans for residential property taxes and a bill to force the Department of Finance and the Office of the City to detail and respond to accounting problems in the tax lien system moved from second to third reader, meaning they will face a final vote before heading to the mayor’s desk.

The council also passed a bill from Council President Mosby to establish the position of Suicide Prevention Coordinator within the Health Department. The agency has suicide prevention services but does not have an employee tasked solely with overseeing them.

The bill can go into effect 30 days after the mayor signs it.

Council President Mosby also introduced a resolution to join House America — a national partnership among cities and states run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development to put American Rescue Plan funding toward reducing homelessness.

On Tuesday, the council will hold a hearing on how Baltimore will spend $641 million of those funds. Shamiah T. Kerney leads the Mayor's Office of Recovery Programs, which was created by Mayor Scott over the summer to oversee applications to and distributions of the pot of money.

“We are not just a checkbook agency. We're not just the office that writes checks and says to agencies, ‘please go spend,’ ” she said.

Kerney said the office has not yet approved any proposals and is currently evaluating them with a rubric that weighs equity, impact and risk.

“We're going to be keeping an eye on making sure that we are spending money across different areas and not just kind of oversaturated one market,” she said. “But I think we have to do an analysis of the need versus what the requests are.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.