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An early start on the General Assembly

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Preservation Maryland
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Maryland State House

Maryland’s General Assembly will return to Annapolis for its regular session in less than a month and advocacy groups are already laying out an ambitious environmental agenda.

Much of that agenda centers on climate change. The proposals range from beefing up the requirements of Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction act to going all electric in the state’s vehicle fleet and changing building codes to require all electric buildings.

Delegate Kumar Barve, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee told a virtual gathering of environmental groups this week the goal is to “electrify everything.”

The reason, he said, is very simple.

“First of all, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground where they can't harm us.”

Laurie McGilvray, of the Climate Justice Wing of the Maryland Legislative Council, compared it to putting buildings on an energy diet. The measures would require buildings to reduce their energy use by “adding insulation, new windows, upgrading their heating and cooling system to electric heat pumps,” she said.

She couched much of the effort in terms of environmental justice.

“As we retrofit multifamily buildings and reduce energy use in single family buildings, we need to do that in a way that's really going to benefit communities of color and low income Marylanders,” she said.

That also includes the move to convert to all electric cars, said Staci Hartwell, co-chair of the Maryland NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Committee. Maryland is second in the nation, behind New York state, in pollution from cars, trucks, she said.

“A black child in Baltimore is 500 times more likely to die from asthma than a white child,” Hartwell said. “We have the dubious distinction of having the highest rates of death related to air quality in the country.”  

In addition, she said, African Americans are exposed to 12 times more particulate matter from air pollution on roads and for Latinos that exposure is 11 times greater than the exposure for all Marylanders.

“These factors led to a growing community of advocates pushing to address this inequity through the adoption of the advanced clean truck rule, which would require a growing percentage of vehicles sold to be zero emission vehicles,” Hartwell said.

There’s also an economic reason to be pushing these measures, according to Paul Pinsky, the Prince Georges Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.

“We have a lot of shoreline, the coast, the bay, and those storms coming up the bay do a lot of damage,” he said. “And when in Annapolis or the Inner Harbor, a business can't open their doors because of flooding, it's affecting our economy.”

Climate change and rising sea levels affect farmers as well, “who are losing acres each day to saltwater intrusion,” he added.

But to get those measures passed, they need a strong lobbying effort from grassroots groups, Pinsky warned. Some lawmakers understand the need, he said. And he and Del. Kumar Barve may be able to sway others with impassioned floor speeches.

“But unfortunately, there are some who will put their finger up and check to see which way the wind is blowing. You've got to let them know that the wind is blowing at our backs,” Pinsky said.

He and Barve cited the recent storms in Western Kentucky as further evidence of the need for climate legislation. And Barve stressed the need to pass the bills quickly in this election year.

“We have to pass this bill soon in the General Assembly session, put it on the governor's desk so that if he vetoes it, we'll have time to override his veto now before we adjourn,” he said. “Because if he vetoes this bill, after we adjourn, it's dead until after the election.”