ANNAPOLIS — Environmental advocates rallied Tuesday to ensure Maryland lawmakers pass sweeping climate change legislation that proposes net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, conduct a study to assess jobs in the energy, building and transportation sectors and identify communities affected by climate change.
“The time is now for Maryland to focus on helping those communities that are sacrificed and underserved but are the most impacted by climate and other environmental harm,” said Robin Lewis of Bowie, who serves as director for climate equity with Interfaith Power & Light DMV based in Northwest.
“These communities, our neighbors, deserve to be treated with respect and to have justice. We need a seat at the table so that investments in training, employment and other opportunities can equitably be directed within the Black and brown communities,” Lewis said.
The rally took place outside at Lawyers’ Mall in Annapolis before a bill hearing on an ambitious plan called “Climate Solutions Now Act” sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-District 22) of University Park.
Pinsky didn’t attend the rally because he still remained on the Senate floor but in two words he summarized during a more than three-hour hearing, why the bill must pass immediately: “urgency” and “boldness.”
“This legislation pushes the envelope,” said Pinsky, who chairs the Senate environmental committee. “It is also conscious of the ability to implement what’s in the bill. It’s a work in progress.”
He pushed for a similar bill to pass last year that failed on the last day of the session.
That’s why lawmakers began work on the bill last summer in order to gain traction and work on any differences with support from state leadership.
Several other provisions in the legislation include:
Reduce statewide greenhouse gas by 60% from 2006 levels by 2030.
New construction of buildings to utilize electricity for hearing and hot water as opposed to natural gas and oil.
Commercial and residential buildings at least 25,000 square feet must reduce emissions to net zero in 18 years with a phase-in method.
Several opponents including Melvin Thompson with the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said phasing out fossil fuels and installing all-electric machinery would increase services, appliances and operating costs.
“Restaurants rely on the efficiency and performance of gas for commercial cooking,” said Thompson, who serves as vice president for government and public policy with the association. “Phasing out the use of gas will slow down the cooking process, reduce a chef’s control over the intensity of the heat and also affect the flavor and texture of finished food.”
Erin Appel, representing the Maryland School Bus Contractors Association, spoke on a part of the bill that states by 2024, all local school boards cannot sign a new contract to purchase or use a school bus “that is not a zero-emission vehicle.” The goal would be for all public schools to utilize electric vehicles.
She said some school systems have already signed contracts with bus companies that are year-to-year, five years or even up to 15 years.
“By prohibiting a school board from entering into a contract for the use of a diesel bus beginning in 2024, this bill would, in essence, be [affecting] huge portions of their school bus fleets,” she said.
Del. Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the House’s Environmental and Transportation Committee, will sponsor four separate bills in his chamber.
“We want to have a big victory this year and we’re going to get a big victory,” he said.