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Maryland environmental advocates seek more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman speaks before a hearing on the Climate Solutions Act of 2020, which would change the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goal from 40% by 2030 to 60% by 2030, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2045.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman speaks before a hearing on the Climate Solutions Act of 2020, which would change the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goal from 40% by 2030 to 60% by 2030, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2045.(Rachael Pacella / Capital Gazette)

County Executive Steuart Pittman has a call scheduled with the rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Thursday, and he thinks it will want to talk about climate change when assessing Anne Arundel.

“I’ll need to tell them that we have a plan. That’s the pressure that some of us need to act,” Pittman said. “For others, it’s what our kids are telling us. Our kids are right and they demand action.”

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Pittman and other leaders are asking lawmakers to approve the Climate Solutions Act of 2020, which would change the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goal from 40% by 2030 to 60% by 2030, aiming for net-zero emissions by 2045.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday, preceded by a press conference in which committee chair and bill sponsor Sen. Paul Pinsky said the need for more aggressive action is clear.

The bill would require the state to switch to an all-electric fleet of light-duty cars by 2030. If a new building receives 25% state funding or more, the building would have to be carbon-neutral. And new commercial buildings with more than 20,000 square feet of roof space have to install solar energy systems.

“Not a conversation, not ‘try,’ but to ‘do it’ unless there are extenuating circumstances like tree stands or slopes,” Pinsky said.

The bill also mandates the planting of 1 million trees a year. Pinsky said during the hearing Wednesday that while the goals laid out in the Climate Solutions Act of 2020 would cost more, he believes it can be revenue neutral if the state uses funds raised through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap and trade program which raises funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy. He said he plans on filing an amendment that will expound upon funding for the bill.

This October, the Maryland Department of Environment released a draft greenhouse gas reduction plan, which is still available for public comment. The draft plan lays a path to get a 44% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2006 levels by 2030, surpassing the state’s present goal.

Pinsky said the state’s plan stops short of what is needed. Maryland Department of Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said he shares Pinsky’s enthusiasm for ambitious goals, and wants to work with legislators on how to best meet them, while ensuring fairness and equity and also measuring the impacts on jobs and the state’s economy. He said the state’s draft plan is bold, balanced, ambitious and achievable.

“We are all headed in the same direction,” he said. “We are committed to working with legislators to make sure we have the most ambitious and achievable plan possible before the end of the year.”

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The Department of Environment submitted written comments on the bill, saying that it supported its effort to accelerate action to combat climate change but had some concerns with the bill as drafted, saying some of the changes proposed in the bill “threaten to unravel the consensus underlying current law.”

The department also wrote that while laudable, achieving a 60% reduction by 2030 could be impossible through state programs alone.

“Such rapid reductions may require improvements in federal programs to advance new technologies and make major infrastructure investments,” MDE Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Relations wrote. “The Department believes such federal action is necessary and long overdue, but the department would not be able to assume that action occurs in the development of a state plan.”

The House version of the bill will be before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 4 at 1 p.m.

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