Maryland Democrats pass climate bill after years of setbacks

ANNAPOLIS (April 1, 2022)—Sweeping climate change legislation won final passage through the Maryland Senate Thursday, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's desk in time for legislators to override his anticipated veto.

The bill, which aims to significantly curtail the state's greenhouse gas emissions and sets it on a path for net zero emissions by 2045, cleared the legislature on a party-line vote, 32 to 15, after months of negotiations between Democratic environmental champions in both chambers.

It is a product of three years worth of efforts to pass the Climate Solutions Now Act, after previous versions failed in 2020 and 2021.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, and Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, led the bill through the legislature this session and came to an agreement over changes made to the proposed law in the House, a stumbling block that prevented the bill from passing last year.

Democrats worked to get the bill to Hogan by the end of this week in time to override a possible veto from the Republican executive.

Democrats expect Hogan, who blasted the legislation earlier this month as an "energy tax bill," to veto the legislation, legislators and aides said.

"(It) imposes massive burdens on Maryland families and small businesses," Hogan said in a statement March 10. "With inflation surging and energy prices at record highs, this is the absolute worst possible time for policies that raise costs for consumers."

The bill calls for a 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2031. The bill also mandates that existing buildings over 35,000 square feet reduce emissions by 20% by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2040. Single family homes, historic properties, manufacturing buildings and agricultural buildings would be excluded from the new standards.

Regulations for new buildings, methane emissions monitoring and a program for the construction of net zero emission schools, among other measures, were stripped from the bill in a compromise between Senate and House Democrats. Pinsky criticized the changes made by his colleagues in the House of Delegates.

"When we sent over this consensus bill…we had hoped that the other chamber would take it up also in seriousness and boldness, but unfortunately there was some level of retreat and conciliation to the fossil fuel industry and some other interests," Pinsky said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Barve was disappointed in Pinsky's comments, saying in an interview with Capital News Service after Thursday's vote that he and Pinsky were in constant communication about the bill during negotiations this session.

Barve pointed out that the House amended a proposed study of the state's electric grid capacity to accommodate an all-electric building code by removing gas infrastructure from the study completely and moving up the reporting date for the study to September 2023 from 2025.

The Senate version of the bill included examining how gas companies would fare under a transition to an electrified building sector in the study, which the House removed.

"Paul Pinsky chose to cave to BGE (Baltimore Gas and Electric Company)," Barve said.

Barve also said there was never an agreement between Pinsky and him to include the construction of net zero schools, which the Senate bill included in "bad faith," he said, and the House removed.

Despite their disagreements, Barve said he was pleased with the finished product that cleared both chambers.

"This was two, two and a half years worth of work," Barve said. "We are really, really proud of an excellent bill."

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a leading environmental group in the state which lobbied heavily for the bill, commended the bill's passage.

"This legislation puts the state on a path toward decarbonization and will reduce Maryland's overall greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years," CBF Maryland Executive Director Josh Kurtz said in a statement Tuesday. "We owe it to future generations of Marylanders to address the root causes of the stronger storms, rising sea levels, and higher temperatures that threaten their quality of life, and this bill is a strong step toward doing so.

"CBF thanks House leadership and the delegates who helped defend this bill against several weakening amendments."

Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, criticized the legislation as a "partisan bill" that passed by "a party-line vote" before final passage Thursday.

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