Maryland Lawmakers Introduce “Climate Test” Legislation for Public Service Commission

ANNAPOLIS, MD — Today, Maryland State Delegate Lorig Charkoudian (D-20) and Senator Benjamin Kramer (D-19) announced the introduction of Senate Bill 656 and House Bill 531, which would require the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to include, as one important factor in its decision-making, the worsening climate crisis. The bill, known informally as the “climate test” legislation, would provide a necessary and straightforward solution to the PSC’s  lack of consideration of climate change when making energy-related decisions.

Delegate Charkoudian stated: “We are in a climate crisis, which means we simply can’t keep approving new fossil fuel projects without even considering their climate impacts. This bill integrates consideration of climate into all decisions at the Public Service Commission, where major energy decisions are made.”

The PSC approves all large facilities that generate electricity, including coal and gas power plants. Currently, Maryland’s coal and gas plants are the State’s second highest emitter of greenhouse gases. The PSC also oversees other climate-relevant projects like the merger between AltaGas and Washington Gas, which gave Maryland Governor Larry Hogan $30 million to expand the use of fracked gas across Maryland.

Yet, the state’s legislatively-enacted climate-change mitigation goals play no role in the PSC’s decisionmaking. As stated by the PSC staff, in connection with the PSC’s recent decision allowing the retired CP Crane coal plant to repower to gas, “no part of [the PSC’s governing statute] explicitly requires that a discussion of climate change be included as part of the approval of an application for a [power plant], and the Commission has never required any consideration of climate change in a [power plant] proceeding. ”

Senator Kramer stated: “Maryland is positioning itself as a climate leader. Let’s solidify that leadership by making sure climate is embedded in every aspect of our governing. We can start with the Public Service Commission, which permits energy projects that could make or break our state’s climate goals.”

This legislation directs the PSC to consider climate change in its regulation of the electricity sector, based upon the best available scientific information recognized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as part of the state’s efforts to  achieve its climate goals. In particular, the legislation will require the PSC to consider climate impacts when reviewing applications for electricity generating facilities, and when it approves the sites for new facilities. State agencies similarly would need to consider climate impacts when providing input to the PSC regarding applications for facilities.

This bill could also promote more favorable decisions from the PSC concerning renewable energy in Maryland, including well-designed utility solar installations and the state’s proposed offshore wind projects.

Steven Hershkowitz, Maryland Director of the CCAN Action Fund, stated: “The Public Service Commission has a mission to protect the public. This includes protecting the public from the most dangerous issue we face today: impending catastrophic climate change. We are grateful to Delegate Charkoudian and Senator Kramer for introducing this much-needed legislation.”

Josh Tulkin, Director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, stated: “This bill is a necessary and common sense addition to the state’s commitments to fight climate change.  The PSC plays a crucial role in deciding how Maryland generates and uses electricity and, for this reason, it is essential that the PSC apply a climate test in its decision-making.”

In 2018, the world’s top scientists at the United Nations released a report finding that the world must cut fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030 in order to avert climate catastrophe. Maryland is a coastal state with over 3,000 miles of tidal shoreline, thus making it one of the most vulnerable states in America to sea level rise. Rising temperatures have already damaged the health of the Chesapeake Bay, weakening the tourism and seafood industries that support many Maryland livelihoods.

CONTACT:
Steven Hershkowitz, Maryland Director, steven@chesapeakeclimate.org, 301-941-7886
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, denise@chesapeakeclimate.org, 240-630-1889

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The 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 17 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit www.ccanactionfund.org