By allowing the Climate Solutions Now Act to become law, Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly have thrown down the gauntlet. We as a state are now required by law to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2031 and 100% by 2045. We should be proud of our leadership in the General Assembly and the many advocates who worked for the bill’s passage. Now we must live up to this ambitious goal and while there are hard choices ahead, there is reason to be hopeful.
This legislation passed at a remarkable moment in history, where clean, zero carbon technologies are finally cheaper than their polluting predecessors. Solar energy is now the “cheapest energy in history,” according to the International Energy Agency, with the price of solar panels dropping 90% between 2010 and 2020. When utilities request proposals for new energy generation, the cheapest offers come from solar panels coupled with batteries that offer reliable, 24/7/365 energy. A recently retired coal plant in Montgomery County is being replaced by solar panels and batteries because it is a cheaper way to make electricity. Electric vehicles, with longer ranges and improved performance, are now cheaper over a vehicle’s lifetime than internal combustion engine cars. Similarly, an electric heat pump is the most affordable way to heat and cool your home.
With this exciting news, we can eliminate the vast majority of our emissions by taking two simple steps:
First, we must move Maryland to 100% clean electricity, second, we have to use that energy to power our state. If we do this fast enough, we will meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals, lower energy bills, create new jobs and save thousands of lives a year from reduced air pollution.
Maryland lawmakers can act on step one by requiring 100% clean electricity for our State by 2035 or sooner. This is what President Joe Biden has called for as part of his plan to combat the climate crisis, and it’s what Maryland should do in the next legislative session. We have all the technology we need to make this change. We just need to make the commitment. We also need to stop subsidizing the burning of trash, pretending it’s clean energy.
The Climate Solutions Now sets Maryland up well for the second step: electrify everything. The bill creates a Building Energy Performance Standard for all buildings over 35,000 square feet. This means large existing buildings must reduce their onsite emissions over time and be totally emissions free by 2040. We need to build on this policy by expanding it to cover smaller buildings and requiring all new construction to be fully electric. If we are going to eliminate our carbon emissions by 2045, we need to stop installing gas furnaces and stoves now to avoid expensive retrofitting later. Electric buildings are also healthier. Studies have shown that cooking with improperly vented gas stoves can increase the risk of asthma in children by as much as 42 percent.
It cannot be said often enough that air pollution is a silent killer. In addition to the impact on childhood asthma, every year in Maryland about 6,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution, more than 10 times the number of people murdered in Maryland last year. If we stop burning fossil fuels to power our society, we will eliminate these life-threatening pollutants almost entirely.
Climate Solutions Now also recognizes and takes important steps to undo the centuries of energy policies that have disproportionately harmed Black and brown communities across Maryland. The bill requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to, for the first time, examine the cumulative impacts of emitting sources concentrated in environmental justice communities. It also creates a Climate Catalytic Fund to pay for the work needed to eliminate emissions in overburdened parts of our State, including Baltimore City.
The Climate Solutions Now Act tells us where we need to go, but most of the journey is still uncharted. While wind, solar, batteries, heat pumps, and electric vehicles are now the cheapest, safest forms of energy, it will take bold leadership to cut through the noise and enact the policies that will deploy these technologies fast enough to meet our new climate goals.
I want to join my delegate in the 43rd district, Regina T. Boyce, and so many others in the General Assembly who passed this historic legislation, and take the next steps to make the goals a reality.
Elizabeth Embry, a Baltimore native and government attorney, is currently a candidate for delegate in District 43A. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.