MD General Assembly Wrap Up: Progress on Climate... But Not Enough!

The 446th annual session of  the Maryland General Assembly came to a close this week with decidedly mixed results for climate policies. With your help, we put pressure on lawmakers to advance several positive bills on offshore wind power, rooftop solar and energy efficiency. 

But…we also saw, for the first time ever, lawmakers WEAKEN a major climate bill previously passed by the legislature. And we saw Governor Wes Moore, who ran as a climate candidate, use much of his political capital to advance a controversial data center bill that complicates climate policy. 

We provide all the details in this longer-than-usual-but-super-important blog post below. But first…

SIGN UP NOW to join our CCAN Maryland Action Member Meetup on Wednesday, April 17 at 7 PM to hear a full debrief of the session and what YOU can do to help us continue the fight against climate change.

Of course, with record heat and historic storms bearing down on the planet daily, we want to thank all the legislators who led the fight for climate advancement this year in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. But our message to these same leaders and to Governor Wes Moore is simple: You are NOT doing enough to match the scale of the problem and to implement the state’s own statutory climate goals.

First, some good news. Thanks to Chair CT Wilson (D-Charles) of the House Economic Matters Committee, and Chair Feldman (D-Montgomery) of the Senate Education, Energy, and Environment Committee, a bill passed to help Maryland offshore wind developers overcome lingering obstacles toward getting LOTS of turbines spinning in the Atlantic (SB1161/HB1296). And Delegate Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery) and Senator Katie Hester (D-Howard) led the fight for the innovative WARMTH Act (SB570/HB0397) which creates novel geothermal pilot projects at the neighborhood scale across the state.

And now some not-good news: CCAN Action Fund’s top priority this year was passage of the RENEW Act which would have joined five other states in pushing for a fee on major carbon polluters to pay for increasingly destructive climate impacts in the state. That bill never even got a vote. 

SIGN UP NOW to join our CCAN Maryland Action Member Meetup on Wednesday, April 17 at 7 PM to hear a full debrief of the session and what YOU can do to help us continue the fight against climate change.

And now the REALLY not good news: The General Assembly totally caved in to lobbyists and money from the gas industry – BG&E, Washington Gas – and failed to pass the Better Buildings Act. The bill would have required new buildings in the state to include electric heat pump systems for hot water and space heating. Separately and even worse, through a behind-closed-door budget amendment, the legislature seriously postponed – if not effectively repealed — a key building-efficiency feature of the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. That feature would have helped reduce energy use in large buildings and repealing it puts in jeopardy a nearly $200 million federal grant the state has applied for

The bottom line: Maryland is not on track to meet our 2031 climate goals. Modeling released by the Moore Administration found we were on track to cut climate pollution 51% by 2031, still 9% short of the 60% reduction required by law. There were good climate bills that passed this year but for the most part these bills will not help cut that last 9% of emissions. 

Still, In addition to the offshore wind legislation and WARMTH Act described above, some notable victories this year also include:

  • Senator Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) and Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo’s (D-Montgomery) Brighter Tomorrow Act (SB783/HB1435) that will create additional incentives for solar panels installed on impervious surfaces 
  • Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo’s and Chair Feldman’s DRIVE Act (SB0959/HB1256) that will allow cars and home batteries to sell back to the grid at peak hours, opening the door to the creation of virtual power plants
  • Vice-Chair Brian Crosby’s (D-Saint Mary’s) EMPOWER Reform legislation (HB864) that will align maryland’s energy efficiency program with our climate goals and encourage electrification.

These are important victories. We applaud and thank lawmakers in Annapolis for getting each of these bills over the finish line this year. However, rather than closing the gap, the solar and wind bills this year are helping us to get back to our 51% reduction baseline. The WARMTH Act is an important bill deploying a new technology that will hopefully scale up in time to help meet our 2045 goals but is unlikely to meaningfully move the needle on emissions by 2031. The climate bills this year solved specific speed bumps for clean energy and opened the door for new technologies, but for the most part did not bring us closer to achieving our 60% by 2031 goal. 

A lot of good legislation died this year, including bills that would have taken trash incineration out of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, increased utility transparency, and increased investments in public transportation. Of the bills that didn’t pass, special attention is due to the Better Buildings Act. Introduced by Delegate Boafo (D-Prince George’s) and Senator Brooks (D-Baltimore), the bill would have required new buildings to meet all their space and water heating needs without the use of fossil fuels. This is the low hanging fruit of climate policy. As amended, the bill would have cost the state nothing. It also would have saved developers money because it is cheaper to build and operate all electric buildings than gas heated buildings. Montgomery County and Howard County have already passed some form of all electric new building policy, and Governor Moore endorsed the bill. Every year we wait to pass this policy, new gas pipelines will be laid in the ground all across Maryland, pipelines we will have to pay to dig up and retire sometime between now and when we are required to eliminate our net emissions in 2045. Any decision maker who was seriously committed to hitting the state’s climate goals would make this the first policy they passed. Unfortunately, the Better Buildings Act was not allowed to come to a vote in either the state House or Senate. 

In addition to rejecting much needed policies like the Better Buildings Act, this legislative session undermined previously established climate policy. Governor Moore made it a top priority of his administration to pass legislation exempting data centers and other “critical infrastructure” from permitting processes. We had hoped that after running on a promise of 100% clean energy by 2035, Governor Moore would design and champion a bill enacting 100% policy this legislative session. However, no bills helping to solve the climate crisis made it on the short list of Governor Moore’s top legislative priorities, though his agencies did endorse other climate legislation, including the Better Buildings Act. 

Lawmakers not only fast tracked permitting for data centers, lawmakers also undercut a critical component of the Climate Solutions Now Act through amendments to the state budget process. The Climate Solutions Now Act required the state to purchase 100% zero emission buses by 2025, but this year amendments to the budget pushed that date back to 2027. Even more damaging, in the final week of the legislative session amendments were added to the budget that weakened the Building Energy Performance Standards that were established by the Climate Solutions Now Act. As a result, the lengthy process of issuing the Building Energy Performance Standards regulations may have to restart entirely after a year and a half of work. These rollbacks will, in themselves, worsen air pollution and slow our transition to clean energy, but they raise an even more alarming question: why are Democratic leaders attacking climate policy rather than strengthening climate policy? 

SIGN UP NOW to join our CCAN Maryland Action Member Meetup on Wednesday, April 17 at 7 PM to hear a full debrief of the session and what YOU can do to help us continue the fight against climate change.

We have high hopes that climate and equity can secure bigger victories next year, including 100% clean energy and making polluters pay, but that will only happen if we build a stronger movement together.