Top Issues of 2021 Session: Climate Change

With the 2021 Legislative Session rapidly approaching, MACo is profiling some major issues that stand to gather attention in the General Assembly’s work. Here, we preview potential actions surrounding climate change. 

Increased sea level rise along with changing weather patterns have led Maryland to take a multifaceted approach to combatting climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on efforts, and federal actions have given environmental advocates cause for concern. Maryland’s leaders will look to address climate change during the 2021 Session.

Throughout 2020 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a series of rollbacks to federal policy including changing the way they calculate costs and benefits of future air quality standards, to a temporary relaxation of environmental regulation enforcement earlier this year.

The issue, and Maryland’s response was addressed by the Department of Legislative Services in their annual Issue Papers:

On March 26, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a temporary enforcement discretion policy in response to the pandemic. Under the policy, facilities were expected to comply with regulatory requirements where reasonably practicable and return to compliance as quickly as possible. EPA applied the policy retroactively beginning on March 13; this policy expired on August 31. The policy authorized states or tribes to take a different approach under their own authorities.

In response to the state of emergency, MDE released a statement that discretionary enforcement may be necessary but would be conducted on a case-by-case basis. Under this policy, MDE expected regulated entities to make every effort to comply with environmental responsibilities, including monitoring and reporting requirements. Accordingly, the number of Maryland entities seeking delays or waivers has been relatively low. From March to September 2020, MDE received approximately 68 requests for enforcement discretion. The majority of requests are for flexibility on the timing of submitting monitoring reports due to the closure of facilities and a reduction in staffing. MDE’s processing of significant enforcement actions, those brought to a resolution with a financial penalty of $10,000 or more, has decreased. Between 2016 and 2019, for the January through March quarter, MDE resolved an average of 6.5 significant enforcement actions compared with 2 significant enforcement actions being resolved for that same quarter in 2020. Similarly, between 2016 and 2019, for the April through June quarter, MDE resolved an average of 7.5 significant enforcement actions but resolved only 3 significant enforcement actions for the same quarter in 2020.

In November, the Maryland Commission on Climate Change issued its annual report to the Governor and the General Assembly. The report outlines the Commission’s work examining new recommendations, and details actions at all levels of government to combat climate change in Maryland. Notably, this year’s report comes with a Commission recommendation to establish a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goal requiring at least a 50 percent reduction by 2030 and achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2045.

Also included in the report is information regarding the State’s status within important programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Medium and Heavy-Duty Truck Zero-Emission Vehicle MOU, and the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). While Maryland remains an active member of TCI, the State recently opted to put signing the official MOU on hold. The regional initiative hopes to cut greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles in the region by an estimated 26% from 2022 to 2032. The TCI-P program will require gasoline and fuel suppliers to purchase allowances for the pollution their products will cause. The proceeds of allowance auctions will go to participating states for investment in carbon cutting measures like increased electric vehicle deployment and public transit.

DLS Issue Papers: Impact of COVID-19 on the State’s Agricultural, Environmental, and Natural Resources Sectors

EPA Finalizes Last-Minute Air Quality Rule

EPA Relaxing Enforcement of Environmental Regulations

Maryland Commission on Climate Change Issues Annual Report

Maryland Declines to Join Regional Transportation and Climate Initiative

Helpful 2021 Session Links:

Maryland General Assembly website | 2021 Dates of Interest | Issue Papers
Re-opening procedures: Senate | House of Delegates | House Committees
Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database
MACo’s 2021 Priorities  |  MACo’s 2020 Wrap-Up