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Climate change bills split for focus in the House

Climate change Earth, boiling pot of water
File photo
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While Maryland’s senators wrestle with a huge, all-encompassing bill to reduce the state’s carbon footprint to zero, members of the House of Delegates are taking up those climate-change related issues in four separate bills.

One of those bills, requiring the state to gradually convert to an all-electric vehicle fleet, already has passed the House. Two others, calling for new construction and for new state funded buildings to be all electric have had hearings recently. And the one that requires Maryland to be carbon neutral by 2045 is scheduled for a committee hearing Friday.

Del. Dana Stein, the Montgomery County Democrat co-sponsoring the bills, says it made sense to break them up.

“We decided in the House that we wanted to split up our bills so that each bill went to just one committee as opposed to being jointly assigned to more than one committee,” he explained.

He called it a more straightforward process.

Environmental advocates, who laid out an ambitious agenda that centered on climate change nearly a month before this year’s General Assembly session began, have staged rallies on Lawyer’s Mall supporting the bills and have lined up to testify in their favor.

At a hearing this week, Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, told the House Appropriations Committee the bill requiring new state buildings to be all electric should be called the Maryland State Climate Leadership Act.

“It's saying that this is an important goal for our state, and we're going to be leaders in it,” she said. “As Maryland is one of the most educated and well-funded, wealthiest states in the country, we should be a national leader.” 

Chris Parts, of the US Green Building Council, praised lawmakers for setting high performance building standards in 2008, but complained little has been done since then. He told the committee Maryland should act now to take advantage of the cheaper operational costs of all electric buildings.

“Acting within the parameters of this bill will not only document our building emissions, but it will also track our progress toward zero carbon emissions as a part of the legislative objective,” he said.

Others, however, worried that the bills go too far, too fast in committing the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ellen Valentino, of the Mid Atlantic Petroleum Distributors, told the appropriations committee the bill to make new state buildings all electric raises safety issues.

“What happens when the lights do go out,” she asked? “And I think that's a valid question that people need to deliberate on. And when the lights do go out, there needs to be backup fuel. And that includes heat oil and propane as well as natural gas.”

Jeff Guido, of the Baltimore Building Trades Council, complained that the electric buildings bill has no provisions to ensure that workers who transition from jobs in fossil fuels businesses to work in wind and solar can maintain their standards of living.

“We want the standards to be prevailing wages with benefits,” he said.

Work on those buildings should be restricted to “contractors that have not had any violations of the federal or state wage laws for three years,” he added. And the state should establish a plan “for outreach and recruitment of Maryland's residents in the poor, underserved areas of the state.”

Others have said they support reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they have problems with the bills under consideration.

Lobbyists for BGE complain in written testimony that the House bill to make Maryland carbon neutral by 2045 requires utilities to “completely overhaul their existing regulatory models to focus on the building sector,” which they say, “accounts for only 13% of economy-wide emissions.”

Assuming the House bills pass, they still must be reconciled with the Senate bill. Del. Stein, the co-sponsor of the House bills, says they drafted the bills to reflect that.

“The goal is for the House and the Senate to be aligned in the substance so that our bills would have very similar content to what's in the Senate bill,” he said. 

He says they’re already “in the middle of discussions” with Senators to resolve the differences.