Maryland General Assembly ended three weeks early — what does that mean for climate action?

Coronavirus is climate change on warp speed

These are trying times. 

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the Maryland General Assembly ended their 2020 legislative session last night — three weeks earlier than planned. 

We are thankful that our lawmakers are taking the necessary steps to “flatten the curve,” and that they were able to pass emergency COVID-19 relief legislation. But this urgent response to one crisis could come at the cost of averting another: the climate crisis. Unless we urge the Maryland General Assembly to make climate change a priority when it reconvenes for a special session in May.

While we’re grateful our state legislators passed Coronavirus Response Legislation, we are now looking to our leaders to prioritize passage of the Climate Solutions Act of 2020 when they reconvene for special session in late May. 

We first and foremost want to applaud Governor Hogan, Senate President Ferguson, and House Speaker Jones for their proactive leadership in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. We are hopefully well on our way to flattening the curve and saving countless Maryland lives, though we know we have a ways to go. 

Meanwhile, the climate crisis is not going away, and the world needs to cut global emissions in half by 2030 in order to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists, including those at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, have identified that threshold as the tipping point when irreversible feedback loops could make the climate crisis jump exponentially in severity. This year is one of just a handful remaining to enact meaningful climate policy that reduces emissions before 2030.

Several important climate bills were on their way to passage before the legislature halted their work, including the Climate Solutions Act (HB1425/SB926). That legislation — which would align Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements with leading climate science and reduce millions of metrics tons in climate pollution through energy efficiency gains, planting millions of trees, and other measures — received a bipartisan 8-2 vote from the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee, as well as approval from the Budget and Taxation Committee on Monday morning. The full Environment and Transportation Committee was expected to act, but the Senate ran out of time.

Several other important climate bills passed one chamber, only to have the other chamber fail to act before the premature Sine Die:

HB561, sponsored by Del. Lorig Charkoudian and as amended by the House of Delegates, would create a Community Choice Energy pilot program in Montgomery County. By pooling ratepayers together, the legislation would create greater ratepayer choice on electricity generation, increase renewable energy, and lower electricity rates. The bill received a strong 93-37 vote in the House, but did not get a vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

SB656, sponsored by Sen. Ben Kramer, would require the Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider climate change when making decisions, including on power plant approval. Right now, the PSC does not consider the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals despite making decisions that could make it harder for the state to achieve such goals. This bill passed 32-14 in the Senate, but did not get a vote in the House Economic Matters Committee.

HB368, sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman and amended by the House of Delegates, would ensure the Maryland Transit Administration has the minimum funding required to maintain current transit services. Without this funding, there is significant risk of shutdowns or greater unreliability on transit lines used by Marylanders to get to work, pick up kids, get groceries and medicine, or access medical care. Greater unreliability of transit pushes people back to cars and could increase climate pollution. This bill passed the House 95-36, but did not get a vote in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. 

Write your elected officials in Annapolis: Finish the job you started on climate when you return for a special session. We can’t wait until 2021. 

Thanks for all your support.