Maryland just passed one of the most aggressive climate laws in the US
The landmark legislation targets net-zero carbon by 2045 and takes decisive action on building decarbonization and environmental justice.
Author: Jeff St. John | Canary Media
Maryland has become the latest state to mandate an end to carbon emissions on a net basis economywide by midcentury, targeting electricity generation, building heating and transportation. The package also incorporates environmental-justice provisions. Backers are calling it one of the country’s most aggressive climate change laws.
The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 became law after Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who had opposed the bill on the grounds that it would increase energy costs in the state, declined to take action on the bill on Friday. The bill was passed by veto-proof majorities in the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature, making it likely that an attempt to veto it would have been overturned.
Hogan had attacked the bill as a “reckless and controversial energy tax” on Maryland residents at a time of rising energy prices. His fellow Republicans in the legislature argued that the state isn’t large enough to make an appreciable dent in global warming and should not take on the costs of transitioning the state economy to net-zero emissions.
A nonpartisan analysis of the bill’s costs and benefits found that it might increase energy costs over the short term but could also yield long-term energy savings.
But the bill’s backers cited the global and local risks of climate change — sea-level rise, more extreme storms, heat waves and drought — as strong reasons to act at the state level.
“It really is starting with small steps,” state Sen. Paul Pinsky (D), the bill’s sponsor, said in March. “The only way for us to move forward is to do what we can do in our state.”
The law increases Maryland’s target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 60 percent below 2006 levels by 2031, up from a previous target of 40 percent by 2030 set in 2016. It also sets a 2045 deadline for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the state’s economy.
At least 16 U.S. states have laws or executive orders that have set targets for net-zero carbon emissions from electricity generation, but only a handful of them have gone beyond electricity to set economywide emissions-cut targets, including California, New York and Washington state. Even among states with economywide targets, Maryland’s law stands out as aggressive, with a faster timeline than both New York and Washington.
Victoria Venable, Maryland director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said that Maryland’s net-zero-by-2045 target sets a new goal post for climate action at the state level. And while the law doesn’t codify all the policies that will be required to achieve that goal, it does “set up a handful of really important foundations for actual policies that will cut those emissions,” she said.
One of those foundations centers on reducing energy use in buildings, she said. Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of Maryland’s carbon emissions. Most of that comes from the electricity they use, but roughly one-third of the building emissions result from direct burning of fossil fuels for heating, primarily fossil gas.
“We see the decarbonization of buildings as the next big frontier for climate action, and this bill really puts us on [track for] that journey,” Venable said.
The law will create a building energy performance standard for the state that will require most buildings over 35,000 square feet to start reporting their direct emissions from heating, starting in 2025. Those buildings will then be required to reduce those emissions by 20 percent below 2025 levels by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. While certain school, agricultural, manufacturing and historically significant buildings would be exempt, others will face fines or penalties for failing to meet these targets.
A more aggressive mandate to ban the direct use of fossil fuels in new buildings was stripped from Maryland’s legislation in the face of opposition from energy and construction companies. Such bans have been enacted by cities and counties in California, Massachusetts and Washington state, and most recently in New York City. Gas industry groups have responded by backing legislation to prohibit municipal gas bans in 20 states so far.
At the state level, New York is considering legislation that would ban fossil fuel use in buildings built after 2027, and California and Washington are enacting state building codes that will support all-electric new buildings. While Maryland’s law doesn’t go that far, Venable notes that it does lay the groundwork for more aggressive steps in the future.
Those include mandating that a study be conducted by the state’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, looking at how the power grid could support the higher electricity demands that would come from a shift from fossil fuels to electricity in buildings, she said.
Maryland already has a renewable portfolio standard that includes targets for clean energy supply in the state. Under a 2019 law, that target was raised to 50 percent of all electricity procured in the state by 2030, up from 25 percent. The state got about 11 percent of its power from renewable resources in 2020, two-thirds of that from hydroelectric dams, but state policy has ratcheted up targets to expand the deployment of offshore wind power to boost that total.
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