Measure to help address climate change in Maryland advances

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A measure to help address climate change moved forward in Maryland on Tuesday to boost the state’s current goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 40% of 2006 levels to 60% by 2030.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted to send the bill to the full Senate, which is expected to take up the legislation later this week.

The legislation takes a variety of steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions, from increasing the state’s electric vehicle fleet, requiring large buildings to reduce emissions and helping communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee made a significant change to the measure last week to no longer require newly constructed buildings to use electricity for heating and hot water, rather than oil and natural gas. The change was made after heavy opposition from the building industry.

Commission would study what impact such an electrification process would be and investments that would be needed, if the state decides to move in that direction later. A separate study by the Building Codes Administration in the Maryland Department of Labor would examine the technical side of effectively moving in that direction.

The measure also addresses large existing buildings that are more than 25,000 square feet (2,323 square meters) with the goal of reducing emissions from them overall by 30% by 2035, though K-12 schools, historic properties and agricultural buildings would be exempted. It also includes a goal of achieving net-zero emissions for those buildings by 2040, though the bill has a Dec. 31, 2029, sunset provision that would require lawmakers to approve it again to stay on that timeline.

The bill also comes with roughly $24 million in mandated spending, in at least initial years. That includes $12 million a year in total grants available for school systems to design and build net-zero emission schools. It also includes $5 million in grants for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to improve energy efficiency. Another $5 million a year would go to a Climate Catalytic Capital Fund to promote environmental justice and leverage increased capital investment to cut emissions.

The measure, which stalled last year in the Maryland General Assembly, seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, meaning at least as much carbon is being removed from the atmosphere as what’s being emitted.

While the comprehensive measure did not pass last year, lawmakers did approve part of the package to plant 5 million trees across the state over 10 years, many of them in urban areas. On Tuesday, Sen. Paul Pinsky said $10 million was set aside this year to plant trees. The senator said he had just learned that requests have come in for $14 million.

“So it’s actually oversubscribed, which I think is a very good thing,” Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the Senate measure, told his colleagues in the Senate. “I think it’s very great news that people have responded to this, so I think it’s a first step.”

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