ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a broad measure to cut greenhouse gas emissions, sending the bill to Gov. Larry Hogan who has called it a “reckless and controversial energy tax bill.”
Democrats, who control the legislature, have passed the measure with enough time to still be in session to override a veto before lawmakers end their legislative session on April 11, if the Republican governor decides to reject the bill.
While the measure isn't as expansive as initially proposed, it aims to boost the state’s current goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 40% of 2006 levels to 60% by 2031. It also sets a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 in the state. That means at least as much carbon would be removed from the atmosphere as what’s being emitted.
Passage of the bill, which stalled last year and was made a priority this session, comes at a time when other states are steering surplus funding to projects to slow climate change.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for $22 billion in new climate-related projects like electrifying school buses over the next five years. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a package of bills last week aimed at battling climate change. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham included funding for a “climate change bureau” in her budget proposal.
The Maryland legislation takes a variety of steps to cut emissions, including increasing the state’s electric vehicle fleet and reducing emissions from large buildings.
“This bill takes many, many steps," said Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat who was the bill's chief sponsor. "So, the question before us is: do we want to help shape our future, our history of our state and our planet, or do we want to sit on the sidelines, silent?"
Opponents decried the bill's cost, echoing Hogan's energy tax label.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said “there could not be a worse time to raise energy prices for consumers and businesses, as this bill would do.”
“The governor will weigh all of the costs and controversy surrounding the bill in his decision-making process,” Ricci wrote in an email.
Most Maryland buildings that are at least 35,000 square feet (3,251 square meters) would be required to cut carbon emissions. Manufacturing buildings, single-family homes, historic properties and agricultural buildings would be exempt.
The measure would create a “green bank,” called the Climate Catalytic Capital Fund, to invest in projects to cut greenhouse gas emissions in low- and moderate-income communities. It also would create a program to help train young people in climate-related jobs and implement projects to cut emissions.
The legislation was scaled back from the initial proposal under strong opposition from utilities and construction companies, who objected to a provision that would have required newly constructed buildings to use electricity for heating and hot water, rather than oil and natural gas, by 2024. Instead, the state's Public Service Commission will study the impact of electrifying buildings.
Despite the changes, environmental groups have described the measure as a strong start toward cutting emissions that fuel climate change.
In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and six other federal agencies released a report that found America’s coastline will experience sea levels rise in the next 30 years by as much as they did in the entire 20th century, with major Eastern cities hit regularly with costly floods even on sunny days.
The report mentioned Annapolis among cities that already get a “nuisance” floods during high tides, which will be replaced by several “moderate” floods a year by midcentury, ones that cause property damage, the researchers said.