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Environment

Climate bill accelerating Maryland’s shift from fossil fuels set to become law after Hogan withholds expected veto

A bill to accelerate Maryland’s transition away from fossil fuels will become law, setting goals to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 60% below 2006 levels by 2031 and virtually eliminate the state’s carbon footprint by 2045.

The legislation had been widely expected to appear on a list of vetoes Gov. Larry Hogan presented Friday evening, ahead of the General Assembly’s adjournment for the year on Monday. Hogan had called it a “reckless and controversial energy tax bill” as soon as floor debate began in the Senate last month, though it doesn’t actually include any tax policies.

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But the Republican is allowing the measure to become law, a step environmentalists have said puts Maryland back into the forefront of states taking action to combat climate change, caused by a buildup of emissions in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

Hogan said he would not sign the bill, however, calling it a product of partisan politics. In a letter to Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, he said he would let it become law in hopes it would “generate future deliberation and discussion on this critically important issue.”

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Republican lawmakers had argued Maryland is too small a state to make a difference on climate, and that residents and businesses would bear significant expense to upgrade energy systems with little to no payoff. But Democrats who had said a sweeping climate bill was perhaps the top priority of this year’s General Assembly session say it sends a message to other parts of the country and world about the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Ahead of statewide elections this year, the legislation also was a key political priority for Democrats, who have faced criticism from environmental groups the past two years when they failed to pass similar climate bills.

The groups cheered lawmakers’ efforts to pass the bill this year.

“We are grateful the Maryland General Assembly had the courage and vision to vote for a healthy future for Marylanders,” Maryland League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Kim Coble said in a statement. “Action by the legislature ensures Maryland is leading the nation in fighting the impacts of climate change.”

Hogan’s decision on the climate bill follows a fine line he has threaded on environmental policies throughout his tenure, typically broadly supporting causes to combat climate change and clean up the Chesapeake Bay but often opposing specific policies that could place a financial burden on consumers. The governor, who is term-limited from running for re-election, has positioned himself as a moderate within the Republican Party relative to former President Donald Trump.

For example, while Hogan signed major climate legislation in 2016, requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2006 levels by 2030, he vetoed a bill to increase the state’s renewable energy supply that same year. In 2019, he allowed another renewable energy bill to become law, but did not sign it, citing cost concerns for utility customers.

The climate bill, which lawmakers presented to Hogan last week, replaces that 40% goal with the new 60% reduction target, plus adds the state’s first statutory declaration that it needs to essentially stop emitting any kind of fossil fuel exhaust within the next few decades. Those goals are in line with similar policies adopted in some 16 states, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

To accomplish the goals, the legislation requires owners of large commercial and residential buildings to reduce their energy usage 20% by 2030. It orders the state to buy progressively more zero-emissions vehicles in the coming decades, and establishes a pilot program to explore use of electric school buses, instead of ones that run on diesel.

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A fiscal analysis of the bill by nonpartisan state budget analysts suggests those policies will create significant costs that are impossible to pinpoint in advance. They also could reduce energy usage dramatically, creating savings, the analysts said.

Proponents of the legislation, meanwhile, say significant action to combat climate change is priceless, because it’s needed to protect future generations from the consequences of carbon emissions continuing to climb.

Scientists already have observed major ecological disruptions and increasingly extreme weather, and say conditions will continue to get worse in the coming decades. The latest climate change report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Monday found that if the world doesn’t take drastic action to reduce carbon emissions within the next 8 years, a goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be impossible to meet.

Based on those dire warnings, this year’s climate bill had the blessing of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change and was a top priority of environmental groups and Democrats. Even three members of Hogan’s cabinet supported recommendations by the commission that informed central elements of the legislation that aim to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Though environmental groups have cheered on the sweeping bill, some have raised concern it doesn’t go far enough. As initially proposed, it would have adopted a new statewide building code forbidding installation of fossil fuel-based heating systems in new construction projects. But that policy was removed from the legislation due to concerns it could overly burden the electricity grid and reduce electric reliability.

Instead, the legislation calls for a Public Service Commission study of how much more electricity usage the grid could handle in the decades ahead.


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