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Climate bill heads for governor's desk

 Maryland Senate
Joel McCord/WYPR
Maryland Senate

The state Senate agreed Thursday to accept the heavily amended version of a bill to sharply reduce Maryland’s carbon footprint passed earlier this week by the House of Delegates. But it was a grudging acceptance.

Sen. Steve Hershey, an Upper Eastern Shore Republican, complained about a section the House added that creates a pilot program to allow utilities to help county school systems buy electric or zero emission school buses, then use the electricity stored in their enormous batteries during times of peak demand when the buses are idle.

He said he worried about how utility companies would interpret that.

“So whatever equipment is needed to charge these buses and any type of facilities that are necessary, they could take all of that, build that into a rate case, go before the Public Service Commission; the Public Service Commission then could increase rates for everybody within that service territory,” he suggested.

Sen. Malcolm Augustine, a Prince George’s Democrat, worried that some counties might be ready for such a program, but those that aren’t might be forced to help pay for the buses for another county.

“The ratepayers, those who are trying to pay for their medicine, are going to be asked to pay for the school buses for another jurisdiction,” he asked.

The complaints brought a sharp rebuke from Sen. Ben Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat.

“What you’re witnessing, colleagues, is parochialism rearing its very ugly head,” he intoned.

Montgomery County already has such a program, he said. And the original bill the Senate passed had much the same language, but not the specifics of how to do it that House amendments added.

“We are the state of Maryland,” Kramer argued. “Our decision process does not end at jurisdictional boundaries. If that were the attitude that we take on every bill, we vote out of here, nothing would ever get passed.”

But that amendment and others had gutted the bill, Hershey argued.

“But that's the question,” he said. “Are we going to, you know, sit back and just accept these House amendments, because we want to put through a bill that says Climate Solutions Act of 2022.”

Bryan Simonaire, the Senate Republican leader, said there are provisions he could vote for in a single bill, but not in such a far-reaching measure that he argued would cost too much and not solve the problem of global warming. Lawmakers should be putting their energy into steps at the national and global level, “so we can have a real impact, so we can really save the planet.”

That would be better than focusing on being “a role model that was brought up on this floor from your side of the aisle saying it's a good thing to be role models.” 

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s Democrat and the bill’s sponsor said those arguments were giving him “an Alice in Wonderland” moment. Those who voted against the original bill and wouldn’t vote for the bill in any form are complaining about the House’s amendments.

And he responded to Simonaire’s complaints about being a role model.

“We can sit on the sidelines and watch history, or we can help shape history,” he said. “You know, we can tell our children and grandchildren, we took steps. We didn't stay silent. We didn't put our head in the sand.”

Pinksy has said previously he was disappointed by some of the House amendments, but that it remained a good bill.

He insisted the core of the bill, the goal for carbon neutrality by 2045, remains intact. It also contains a call for emission reductions in large buildings, a “green bank” to help pay for environmental projects, and provisions requiring the transition of state vehicles and school buses from internal combustion engines to electric or zero emission vehicles. It also creates a climate corps for young people to work on projects in communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

“This bill takes many, many steps,” he said. “So the question before us is, do we want to help shape our future history of our state and our planet? Or do you want to sit on the sidelines silent?”

The bill now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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