Howard County becomes second Maryland county to protect its constituents’ health, safety and economy – as well as advance regional progress fighting climate change – by ending fossil fuel use in new buildings
ELLICOTT CITY, MD – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 yesterday to begin the process of ending the use of fossil fuels in almost all newly constructed buildings, continuing the momentum created by Montgomery County and Washington, D.C in 2022. As a result, one in five Marylanders now live in a community whose elected officials are envisioning electrifying all new buildings, moving to protect their constituents’ public health and fulfill the state’s climate goals.
Bill CB5-2023, “The Clean New Buildings Climate Act,” was introduced by Councilmember Christiana Rigby. It directs the County Executive to report by the end of 2023 on needed changes to the county building code to ensure that future homes and buildings in Howard County rely on all-electric appliances. In Howard County, 11% of the county’s climate pollution comes from combusting fossil fuels such as gas, heating oil, and propane in buildings. By beginning the process to electrify new buildings, this legislation will help Howard County meet its goal to reduce emissions 60% by 2030.
“By passing this legislation, the Howard County Council has taken the first step toward electrifying the vast majority of new buildings,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of CCAN Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We must build on this momentum so that all Marylanders can experience the health, safety, and economic benefits of full electrification.”
The bill also requires that the report’s authors develop net-zero energy standards for county government-owned buildings; recommend how the county will reduce greenhouse gas reductions from both the public and the private sector to achieve a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2045; recommend how to minimize energy costs for affordable housing residents, and recommend how to maximize the use of federal, state, and other climate action incentives.
“Building electrification and decarbonization is not a question of if. It is a question of when and how,” said Councilmember Rigby. “Next year, when the Council considers legislation that will update the County’s building code, the report resulting from the Clean New Buildings Climate Act will ensure that my colleagues and I are informed and prepared.”
A growing body of peer-reviewed science shows that the fossil gas piped into many of America’s homes can create significant childhood asthma and other respiratory problems during combustion, as well as constantly leaking cancer-related chemical compounds. Both the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association have recently warned consumers about the dangers of using fossil gas.
Moreover, the cost of fossil fuel heating has risen dramatically in Maryland and is projected to rise far more in coming years. According to a recent study from the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel, if left unchecked, the cost of capital infrastructure projects by the gas industry will increase gas rates to as much as eight times what they are today for Marylanders who remain on the gas distribution system.
The electrification study bill passed despite the opposition of the fossil fuel industry and several trade associations. “Electrify HoCo”, a coalition of two dozen local and state religious, political, and environmental groups representing thousands of Howard County residents, encouraged today’s action with emails, letters, phone calls, and legislator meetings. More than 180 Howard County high school students signed a letter to the Council supporting the bill. Twenty-one of them wrote personal letters, and several testified to the Council in person—some more than once.
CCAN Action Fund is the advocacy arm of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the oldest and largest grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 20 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.