House set to debate sweeping climate legislation – with amendments to Senate bill

On Friday, two key House committees voted to move the Climate Solutions Now Act. The most significant changes include the postponement of the greenhouse gas reduction target for one year, the requirement for newly constructed buildings to be ready to switch to electricity and the removal of all provisions relating to net zero school buildings. Photo by Danielle Gaines.

On Friday, two key House of Delegates committees voted back-to-back to approve an amended version of a sweeping climate bill that would accelerate the statewide goal of meeting carbon neutral emissions by 2045.

The Committee on the Environment and Transport and the Committee on Economic Affairs approved eleven amendments to the Act now on climate solutionswhich should be debated in the House on Monday.

The most significant changes include postponing an interim greenhouse gas reduction target by one year, requiring newly constructed buildings to be electricity-ready, and removing all net-zero school building provisions.

“It’s not just a global climate change issue in my view, it’s also a public health and safety issue,” Del said. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery) at the committee on Friday. He said his committee had talked “very extensively for almost seven months” with Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the main sponsor of the Climate Solutions Now Act.

This marked a change from the 2021 version of the climate legislation which collapsed on the last day of the legislative session due to irreconcilable differences between the two houses.

Both House committees approved an amendment that extended the date by which an interim greenhouse gas reduction target — to cut emissions to 60% of 2006 levels — must be met, from 2030 to 2031. climate package originally proposed to cut emissions by 2032, but delegates compromised with Senate leaders to delay the target date by one year instead of two years.

Amid intense opposition from utility companies and commercial property owners at the start of this legislative session, the Senate removed a provision that would have prohibited all newly constructed buildings from using fossil fuels for space heating. and water by 2024. But House committees bolstered that part of the bill by approving an amendment requiring all newly constructed buildings to be “electricity-ready” beginning in January 2023.

In other words, new buildings must have sufficient electrical capacity and infrastructure to replace fossil-fuel appliances and move relatively easily to an all-electric building standard in the future.

However, some delegates expressed concern for building owners who have been in the planning phase for a long time and who may have to abandon plans to ensure a project is “power ready”.

House committees also amended the bill so that fewer buildings would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, the measure now requires commercial buildings or multi-family residential buildings of 35,000 square feet or more to reduce emissions 20% below 2025 levels by 2035 and achieve net zero emissions by 2040. The Chamber also exempted “manufacturing buildings” from the proposed emissions standards for buildings.

The Senate had proposed requiring buildings 25,000 square feet or more to reduce emissions by 30% below 2025 levels by 2035, while large state-owned buildings should have reduced emissions by 50% below 2025 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions. by 2035. House committees have removed various requirements for large state-owned buildings.

House committees also removed all provisions requiring local school districts to build net-zero schools. The Senate version of the bill would have established a grant fund of up to $3 million from fiscal year 2024 to 2032 and required that at least one school building constructed in each local school system be carbon-free, if the funding is available.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to stop working on it for years to come,” Barve said.

Of the. Mary Lehman (D-Anne Arundel) said the state would be “missing an opportunity” if it didn’t require new school buildings to achieve net zero emissions in the near future. “There are thousands of school buildings across the state, and we will continue to build them of course, so we can’t leave them out,” she said.

While removing new net zero school buildings from the bill would likely not have an immediate impact on greenhouse gases, it would have been a good signal “for our schools and public buildings to lead the way and that our children are in the best cutting conditions that respect the environment”. state-of-the-art environment,” said Josh Tulkin, executive director of the Maryland Sierra Club.

Instead of a new all-electric building code, the Senate proposed a study by the Public Service Commission to assess the impact of electrifying more buildings.

Following requests from environmental advocates, House committees added other parameters to the study, including a provision that would require the commission to consider energy efficiency impacts. The House also removed a provision requiring gas companies to determine the investments the state must make to take on an additional burden of electrifying buildings and retired gas facilities, which advocates say would be biased by favor of utility companies.

“The study [by the Public Service Commission] plus the intent language in the study, plus the building energy performance standards…are all really, really strong signals that Maryland wants to be a leader in moving away from gas,” Tulkin said. “The writing is very, very clear on the wall,” and it would be surprising if property developers didn’t anticipate an all-electric building standard in the future, he continued.

The amended bill also now explicitly addresses the potential role of nuclear energy in the clean energy transition by adding three representatives from the nuclear energy industry to a working group that would study ways for the state to improve its electricity network and the viability of nuclear production facilities. as part of the clean energy transition.

Nuclear industry representatives had urged lawmakers to recognize the potential role of carbon-free nuclear power in achieving the state’s ambitious climate goals.

Of the. Gerald Clark (R-Calvert) decided to vote in favor of the bill because he had promised to do so if nuclear energy was recognized in the bill. “I can’t guarantee I’ll vote yes for this on the floor,” Clark said.

Of the. Melissa Wells (D-Baltimore City) said she was “reluctantly” voting in favor of the bill because she felt it didn’t do enough to ensure strong labor standards during the energy transition.

“My challenge with this is that we often put [labor standards] on the back burner,” Wells said. “A lot of workers and my constituents really want to see us move something meaningful, not only to make their communities cleaner and more beautiful, but also to provide jobs that will support them.”

The bill would create a “just transition” task force that would study workforce development and training opportunities related to energy efficiency and clean energy technologies, with a focus on on dislocated workers in fossil fuel industries.

After some committee members raised concerns about how the bill’s proposed building standards would affect specific industries, Del. CT Wilson (D-Charles), the chairman of the Economic Issues Committee, said there will be many opportunities in the future to make changes to the state’s climate policies.

“By 2040, we will have a multitude of sessions to come back and continue to address it. It’s just about rolling the ball and indicating the direction in which we are rolling – which is to try to be as electrified as possible and reduce our greenhouse gases,” Wilson said.

Norman D. Briggs