Md. climate commission report sets guidelines for aggressive state action

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

As Maryland officials put the finishing touches on a plan for how the state should hit its aggressive goals for combating climate change, an adjacent report from a longstanding advisory body offers some clues on what the final recommendations might include.

The annual report of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which guides the work of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), was released last week, and it’s an expansive document with a range of short-, middle- and long-term strategies.

The commission has existed in one form or another for 15 years, but as the state intensifies its efforts to fight climate change and fine-tunes its legislative and regulatory arsenals, the commission has seen its stature and political influence elevated. Its work may be even more consequential under the administration of Gov. Wes Moore (D), who has vowed to make the state a national leader in climate policy.

“There’s an agenda that these recommendations are leading to,” said Kim Coble, the executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, who is one of the four co-chairs of the climate change commission. “There’s a strategy.”

But the commission’s annual report is almost certain to be overshadowed by the pending “climate pathway” plan that MDE is due to release before the end of the year, outlining how the state can begin to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reduction and clean energy goals laid out in the Climate Solutions Now Act, which became law last year. Those recommendations are likely to result in legislation and funding initiatives during the 2024 General Assembly session.

In their 25-page annual report, the members of the climate commission are clearly mindful of the upcoming climate pathway document and make the case for aggressive spending regimes that they argue will reap dividends in the long term.

“An economic analysis found that fully implementing the policies in Maryland’s Climate Pathway would create 16,700 jobs, increase personal income by $1.5 billion, and produce up to $2.4 billion in health benefits for Marylanders from now through 2031,” the report says. “The health benefits include 51 lives saved and 1,000 fewer cases of respiratory symptoms in 2031 alone.”

The new climate report includes recommendations from four of the commission’s working groups: on adaption and resilience; on education, communication and outreach; mitigation; and science and technology. The recommendations include major policy prescriptions coupled with more symbolic acts, like declaring a “Climate Education Week” in Maryland.

“These recommendations are meant to guide Maryland policymakers on decisions related to reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions from all sectors of Maryland’s diverse economy in accordance with the State Plan and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045,” the report says. “The recommendations are further meant to influence decisions related to adaptation, resiliency, and climate and environmental justice.”

Some of the most noteworthy recommendations include:

  • Expanding tax rebates and other incentives for people who purchase electric vehicles;
  • Providing property tax reductions for building decarbonization;
  • Finding more incentives for electric vehicle infrastructure, including a technical assistance fund for businesses that want to convert their fleets to all-electric;
  • Aiding local transit systems so they can convert their bus fleets to all-electric;
  • Accelerating the transition of MARC trains to use electric engines;
  • Adopting state regulations to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing sector;
  • Establishing a climate equity mitigation fund: “While Maryland’s climate goals now lead the nation in terms of carbon reduction policy, it does not match those goals with investment in the technology development necessary to achieve those goals like is done in states such as California and New York,” the report says. “Unlike biotech and cyber there are no energy specific programs/priorities in the Department of Commerce;”
  • Aligning state spending with climate goals, including ending state support for fossil fuel projects;
  • Removing municipal solid waste incineration as an eligible source for state renewable energy incentives;
  • Modifying the state’s STRIDE program, which requires utility ratepayers to fund natural gas infrastructure improvements, so that the funds would primarily go for emergency purposes — and would encourage building electrification rather than a continued reliance on fossil fuels

The climate commission recommendations also include suggestions for toughening environmental justice goals and for improving the state’s marketing efforts on climate. The idea, according to the commission report, is to “ensure that every Maryland resident is well-informed about available resources and incentives for transitioning to a clean and sustainable economy and increasing resiliency to the impacts of climate change. The campaign’s scope should encompass a wide range of initiatives, including an interactive website, consumer navigators, media advertisements, billboards, and more.”

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