The Maryland Department of the Environment has released its long-awaited roadmap outlining what the state would need to do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50% from 2006 levels by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2045.
Hitting the goal, which is more ambitious than the 40% reduction by 2030 required by state law, will require policy changes in Maryland — and maybe some federal help — in areas like clean energy, mass transit, electric vehicles and forest management, officials say.
The reductions the plan calls for focus on the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland. In 2017, the latest year for which consistent data was available, transportation emitted the most, largely from passenger vehicles. It was followed by electricity generation, largely because of in-state coal burning, which a few years later is largely being phased out.
The General Assembly, meanwhile, is considering a bill that would call for a 60% reduction by 2030.
State Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said his bill also would require Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to take concrete environmental actions to make the MDE plan more achievable.
The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, approved by a Senate committee this week, calls for the planting of 5 million trees by the end of 2030, with a particular focus on underserved communities; electrifying the state’s vehicle fleet; and building net-zero state buildings, among other measures.
“The reason the bill is in front of the legislature is because administration departments have done a lot more talk than they have taken action,” Pinsky said.
The plan released by MDE used statistical modeling to predict emissions levels with no intervention, compared to levels if Maryland stuck to current plans or tacked on additional pollution reduction actions.
The model in which the state took further actions showed that Maryland could surpass its original 40% reduction goal, plus an earlier goal that called for an 80% reduction by 2050, with help from the legislature, said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles.
“We strongly support climate ambition in the legislation,” Grumbles said. “We have the modeling and the numbers — the confidence — to say we think if we push hard we can get to the 50% by 2030. We don’t know if we can get to 60%.”
One area in which the Department of Environment plan could use more detail, Pinsky said, is its projection that more than 500,000 electric vehicles will be registered in Maryland by 2030. By the end of 2020, there were 29,268.
Meeting the goal “will require a combination of opportunities to come together,” the plan reads, and “aggressive” deployment of charging stations and incentives. It points to plans in development to electrify the state’s vehicle fleet.
MDE’s plan included a state Department of Transportation evaluation of how to reduce emissions from cars and trucks.
With programs already on the books, and projects expected over the next nine years, MDOT estimated that it could reduce “on-road” emissions by about 33% from 2006 levels. Those projects include making 50% of the transit bus fleet electric vehicles, and strategies to encourage Marylanders to use public transportation.
With more aggressive measures, like a new high speed rail system, a bus fleet that is 50% to 75% electric vehicles and increased use of electric vehicles and fuel efficient autonomous vehicles, MDOT estimated it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 49% from 2006 levels.
“MDOT recognizes that ... the biggest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will come from getting people out of fossil fuel cars and on to other cleaner modes of travel,” Broughton said.
The Maryland Department of Transportation already is planning for the transition and has increased its capital budget by $125 million over the prior six-year plan to help pay for it, said David Broughton, an MDOT spokesman, in a statement. It’s also increased its design and engineering budget by $33 million to prepare for “the next generation of transit projects that aim to increase ridership and transition to a zero-emission bus fleet,” he said.
Efforts to encourage the use of electric vehicles and establish more charging stations have been funded by the General Assembly. Broughton said the department is pursuing additional grant funds to electrify it’s bus and car fleet.
But Pinsky said the department’s lofty goals don’t mesh with the governor’s record on transportation. Reaching the goals could be made easier with projects like Baltimore’s Red Line, which Hogan canceled, and if the state avoided highway expansions, like Hogan’s proposal to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway.
With the policies already in place, Maryland is likely to fall just shy of its 40% emissions reduction goal, MDE’s models showed, but the state could improve on that by doing such things as increasing the requirement for the amount of energy to by produced by renewable sources by 2030. Under current law, that requirement is 50%.
That was part of the governor’s proposed legislation in 2020, which relied on adding more nuclear energy. It did not pass in the pandemic-shortened session and has been reintroduced this year.
In the newly released plan, unlike previous drafts, coal no longer plays a role in Maryland’s power sector by 2030. Last year, five of the state’s six coal-burning power plants announced they planned to shut down in the years ahead.
“In actuality, our gains and reductions over the last four or five years have mostly been market-driven,” Pinsky said. “Their plan relies on low-hanging fruit.”
David Smedick, a senior campaign representative at the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said he was pleased to see the plan predict an end to coal-burning in the state is likely in the next decade. He hopes the legislature follows suit, and passes the Coal Community Transition Act of 2021, which would set clear end dates for Maryland’s remaining coal-burning plants, and provide for grant funding for displaced workers.
“2030 seems like far away. But in terms of planning for the electricity sector, we need to start right now,” Smedick said.
Environmental groups also were concerned about the lateness of the plan. As part of legislation passed in 2016, it was supposed to be finished by Dec. 31, 2019.
“Some of those big ticket items, like a 100% clean electricity plan or a coal transition plan or other things, need some action from the legislature as well. And without this direction — this submission to the legislature — which should have come on time, we’re being held back,” Smedick said.
Grumbles said the department spent those 14 months engaging with interested parties, particularly the state’s Climate Change Commission.
In that time, the department also has adopted policies that will help lower emissions, Grumbles said, such as regulations to phase out the use of damaging hydrofluorocarbons in foam products, refrigeration, commercial air conditioning and aerosol propellants.
“I think it’s a distraction to just be asking about the amount of time it took to develop the plan,” Grumbles said. “The plan is the most comprehensive and modeled and math-supported plan in the country.
“It’s been time well spent.”