ANNAPOLIS — Legislation that seeks to curb the environmental impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and sets new standards for renewable energy consumption is making its way through the Maryland General Assembly.
In an act of bipartisanship on Monday, the Maryland House of Delegates voted 92-43 in favor of the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016, which requires the state to fuel 25 percent of its electricity with clean energy sources, like wind and solar power, by the year 2020. Currently, the state must power 20 percent of its energy with solar and wind by 2022.
The bill could produce up to an additional 1,000 solar energy jobs per year and 4,600 wind energy jobs in total, according to supporters. Advocates also estimate that the bill could expand solar power to 26,000 Maryland homes per year.
Tom Dennison, government and public affairs director of the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, said the legislation means Marylanders would pay a little extra. If it passes, the price of complying with the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard will jump roughly $1 per month for the “average residential customer,” according to a projection from SMECO.
The Hogan Administration has not taken a stance on the bill, according to spokesman Matt Clark.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration; it is scheduled for an April 5 hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.
Some aspects of the bill that were originally included — a $40 million investment in pre-apprenticeship clean energy jobs training, and grants to help provide loans to women- and minority-owned business — did not make the final cut. Instead, they have become part of a different bill, according to Kelly Trout, communications director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Bill Headed to Hogan
Another bill, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, is now headed to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for final approval. The House voted 100-37 in favor of the legislation on Thursday, roughly a month after the Senate approved it in a similar bipartisan fashion 38-8 on Feb. 23.
The bill sets a new goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2006 levels by 2030. It also upholds the current requirement that Maryland reduce those emissions by 25 percent from 2006 levels by 2020.
Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, who attended a hearing for the bill in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 10, touted the bill as a collaborative effort between Democrats and Republicans.
“This bill reflects a remarkable compromise, common ground, collaborative work,” Grumbles, appointed by Hogan, a Republican, said at the Feb. 10 hearing.
Hogan Administration spokeswoman Hannah Marr said the Maryland Commission on Climate Change — which includes Grumbles and Department of Planning Secretary David Craig, among other cabinet officers — put in recommendations for the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act Plan Update Report.
That report, Marr said, “provided the basis for the current bill,” which enhances greenhouse gas emission reduction goals while balancing business and climate concerns.
“Governor Hogan looks forward to reviewing the final legislation that has been passed by both the House and Senate,” Marr said.
After Passing the Senate, Fracking Bill Heads to the House
The Hydraulic Fracturing Liability Act, which passed the Senate on Thursday, is scheduled for a March 30 hearing in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
The bill would hold any entity that has a fracking permit liable for injury, death or loss to person or property caused by their activities. It also voids any contract that waives a person’s ability to sue a fracking company for damages caused by their actions.
Fracking, as defined by the bill, includes well drilling, the production or exploration of natural gas, or the “storage, treatment or transport of any natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, chemical component used in hydraulic fracturing, or waste from hydraulic fracturing, including produced waters,” according to a legislative analysis.
The controversial practice is banned in Maryland until October 2017.
Prospects for Chicken Poop Legislation Seem Dim
Two final pieces of companion legislation on chicken poop are unlikely to move forward this year. The House and Senate versions of the Poultry Litter Management Act are awaiting a vote in both the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
The legislation is a response to what many environmentalists describe as major chicken companies getting a “free ride” as they produce around 228,000 tons of excess manure in the state each year but are not mandated to pay for the environmental costs of moving that waste.
The bills would require major animal agriculture companies to pay the cost of properly disposing excess poultry manure on their contract farms.
Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for Perdue Farms, pushed back against the notion that the company — an animal agriculture business based in Salisbury, Maryland, that contracts with 265 poultry producers in the state — requires their contract farmers to pay to dispose of poultry litter. Instead, she said, Perdue is the only poultry company in the region that “provides an environmentally responsible alternative to land application.”
“Those who claim that Perdue is putting the responsibility for poultry litter on our farmers are choosing to ignore this fact,” DeYoung wrote in an e-mail.