MD Climate Change 2022 Report: Mixed Bag for Counties

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s 2022 Annual Report offers a mixed bag of incentive and preemption recommendations. 

Late last week, the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) released its 2022 Annual Report outlining a list of 34 state-level policy recommendations to mitigate the impacts and causes of climate change.

The multi-year, multi-stakeholder effort has served as a forum for a variety of administrative, policy, and aspirational debates about the proper stewardship role for Maryland amidst the continuing effects of climate change. Form the 2022 report’s transmission letter:

Moving forward, new greenhouse gas reduction goals for Maryland target a 60% reduction below 2006 levels by 2031 and net-zero emissions by 2045. The MCCC deliberated and proffered the ambitious recommendations found in this annual report. The recommendations represent a set of steps needed to achieve new emission reductions and includes rapidly accelerating the transition to zero-emissions vehicles, reducing vehicle miles traveled, constructing more clean power generation in state, and prioritizing building decarbonization. This annual report provides a framework to support rural, urban, and suburban communities’ transition to a more resilient future.

Six of the many far-reaching recommendations directly affect counties, four of which are semi-favorable to favorable for local governments and two of which represent potentially worrisome burdens or expectations on county governments. MACo abstained during the final vote on the recommendations, citing insufficient consultation of county governments.

Favorable MCCC Recommendations: 

Recommendation 10: 

The Governor should greatly increase the percentage of federal funding including from the Surface Transportation Block Grant and National Highway Performance Program to be used by state agencies and shared with cities and counties for public transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure, and Transit Oriented Development programs.

This recommendation is favorable to county governments and would allocate additional funding for public transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure, and Transit Oriented Development programs. 

Recommendation 12:

The General Assembly should provide funding and other support for local and regional micro transit services to augment rail and bus mass transit.

This recommendation is favorable to county governments and would allow for the expansion of local and regional micro-transit services. This would be particularly beneficial to more rural jurisdictions on the eastern shore and in western Maryland.

Recommendation 23:

The General Assembly should provide matching funds to local jurisdictions to install systems that capture methane from landfills and wastewater treatment plants and, where feasible, use the captured methane for on-site power generation.

This recommendation is favorable to county governments and would provide state funds to help offset the costs of installing methane mitigation systems on landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Counties applaud the MCCC for duly considering this recommendation and taking into account county concerns. The Department of the Environment (MDE) is currently in the final phases of creating new methane regulations for municipal solid waste facilities, which are projected to be incredibly costly for counties. If enacted, this recommendation would help lessen the significant financial burden on local governments.

Recommendation 34:

Design precipitation and flow characteristics will vary across the state but guidance should be developed on the methodology and presented in a manner that is easily implemented by local government.

This recommendation is favorable to county governments and takes into account the diversity of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions.

Unfavorable MCCC Recommendations: 

Recommendation 13:

The General Assembly should require recertification of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) areas. Recertification should be based on whether general plans, zoning, existing land use, PFA’s and TOD development capacities are aligned to accommodate future population and employment projections.

This recommendation would place a potentially significant staff burden, as the local government would be the entity responsible for the considerable effort to reestablish compliance. This recommendation was approved without adequate consultation or input from counties.

Recommendation 14a:

The General Assembly should require each county to designate renewable energy development to sites adequate to implement at least their projected (population-based) share of the state’s legislated solar energy targets. County plans should designate sites for utility solar according to zoning. The county should take into account soil classification with a priority on Class 3 soils or lower. County planning processes should include a stakeholder engagement process for affected parties, including agriculture.

This recommendation would impose an unreasonable burden and expectation on each county to, for the first time, establish a degree of self-sustenance for energy supply. Historically, energy supply has been properly gauged by larger areas (like the multi-state PJM grid governance structure) to recognize the wide variations in geography, terrain, surface and below-ground water sources, and population density.

Using population to designate renewable energy development is inconsistent with how power is currently generated within Maryland and, as a standard, lacks adequate forethought. Half considered population-based metrics fail to take into account the diverse array of issues within each jurisdiction– can a largely urbanized areas like Baltimore realistically be tasked with generating all the alternative energy to sustain its full high-density population? Are mountainous jurisdictions equally positioned to host this capacity as those with wide, flat lands?

The recommendation amounts to an unreasonable devolution of a statewide, or regional, obligation. Broadly counties and private industry should be encouraged to develop solar energy beyond population projections and, in turn, sell that energy to jurisdictions that may not be able to develop as robust solar generating capacity. The State’s robust renewable portfolio standards already create powerful market forces to bring about just such an effort – as evidenced by the aggressive competition for agricultural lands to convert to clean energy solar facilities (a growing policy issue with its own consequences for local land use).

Read the full MCCC 2022 Annual Report.