The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from Maryland’s Legislative Session: Are Maryland’s Climate Mandates at Risk?

While Maryland passed several vital climate bills this session, the state budget includes last-minute rollbacks of crucial policies needed to meet the state’s climate goals.

Last year, newly elected Governor Wes Moore pledged to put Maryland on track to generate 100% clean energy by 2035, deeming climate change “an existential threat for our entire state.” This address came on the tail of the historic Climate Solutions Now Act passage, which established bold and ambitious emissions reduction mandates across sectors.

These developments could have positioned Maryland as a true climate leader — but this legislative session the Governor and the state legislature failed to meet the moment.

On the bright side, thanks to the hard work of advocates and environmental champions in the legislature, important electrification bills like the DRIVE Act (SB 959/HB1256) and EmPOWER Act (HB 864) are now in law.

However, we saw a troubling backroom play in the state budget that delayed the implementation of existing climate policy: Maryland’s Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPs), designed to cut climate pollution from large buildings in the state. The BEPs budget amendment requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to withdraw regulations designed to reduce emissions from large buildings. Consequently, Maryland has lost two years of work in the regulatory process and is no longer on track to meet deadlines established by our foundational climate law. To make matters worse, this language was added to the budget behind closed doors with six days left in the legislative session, preventing transparent collaboration between lawmakers, stakeholders, advocates, and scientific experts.

Ironically, delaying the regulations causes problems for those building owners and companies that planned for their passage and prepared their businesses for successful implementation. This foresight should be rewarded, not punished.

If the gutting of BEPs regulations indicates Maryland’s broader attitude toward its climate goals, we are in for significant trouble ahead. While it’s a positive sign that electrification bills make it through the legislature, they will not have their intended effect if we can’t keep our climate promises by efficiently implementing those laws. This means staying on track to meet deadlines and refusing to walk back regulations backed by experts and stakeholders. The fact is that we are not in a position to delay climate action. Our health and future hangs in the balance.

Read on for a more detailed breakdown of this year’s legislative session.

The Good: 

Some incredibly exciting electrification bills passed this session. These are a testament to the hard work and dedication of dozens of grassroots environmental groups, social justice groups, and supportive legislative champions in Maryland. We thank Delegates Qi and Crosby for their continued dedication and hard work over more than one legislative session.

  • The DRIVE Act (SB 959/HB1256): This bill requires the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to adopt regulations to expedite bidirectional electric vehicle charging system interconnections. Bidirectional charging allows vehicles to provide backup power to buildings or the grid, increasing resiliency. It also allows the PSC to pay customers for grid services through virtual power plant networks, further incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles.
  • The WARMTH Act (HB 397: This bill requires gas companies to participate in a pilot program to develop a thermal energy network system. Electric and water companies are also allowed to develop their own systems. Under this legislation, the Public Service Commission must approve or reject pilot projects by December 2025.
  • The EmPOWER Act (HB 864): This bill reforms Maryland’s successful 2008 EmPOWER program, which helps reduce energy use, provides incentives and rebates for weatherization and appliance updates, and promotes the transition to clean energy. The reforms in HB 864 shift the program goals to focus more on reducing climate pollution and incentivizing electrification. They also ensure that low-income households can fully participate in the electrification movement.

The Bad: 

Here’s where the legislature and Governor Moore fell short.

  • Critical Infrastructure Stream-Lining Act (SB 474) (a Moore Administration bill): This bill exempts backup generators in data centers from the PSC process. Unfortunately, these generators are almost always diesel-powered and a substantial source of harmful emissions. However, the bill does have a silver lining: it requires 15% of the corporate tax paid by data centers to go into the Strategic Energy Investment Fund, which pays for climate programs in Maryland. Under this requirement, a medium-sized data center would pay around $1M into the fund each year.
  • Failure to pass the STRIDE Act (HB 731SB 548): This legislation would have altered the gas utilities pipeline replacement program to require companies to assess alternatives to costly gas pipe replacement, such as pipe repair or targeted electrification. The current law inappropriately encourages gas companies only to consider gas pipeline replacement when the State should be transitioning away from gas usage and toward electrification. However, the General Assembly missed an important opportunity to take a major step forward in achieving Maryland’s GHG emissions when it failed to pass the bill. Not passing this legislation will cost ratepayers millions daily, making achieving the GHG emission reduction mandates more difficult.

The Ugly:

The backdoor lobbying deal to unravel Maryland’s Building Energy Performance Standards threatens the state’s ability to meet its climate mandates. Full stop.

Namely, it prohibits the Maryland Department of the Environment from implementing emissions reduction regulations for large buildings developed through years of transparent public decision-making and expert input. This amendment resulted from a backroom deal between the Maryland Assembly and industry lobbyists, and it was shoehorned into the budget six days before the legislative session ended.

The harsh reality of this deal? Maryland lawmakers deferred to the interests of industry lobbyists over Maryland’s climate future. Stakeholders now must consider their options to prevent this end run around the process from occurring again.

All in all, Maryland needs to do better. The Climate Solutions Now Act was landmark climate legislation and must be our North Star if we are to protect Marylanders from the many harms associated with burning fossil fuels. Unprecedented temperatures and harrowing air quality marked 2023. It should not have also been a year where we walked back key climate policy.

Susan is a senior attorney with the Clean Energy Program.

Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program uses the power of the law and the strength of partnership to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy.

Father supervising his teenage kids when preparing food at home on an electric rangetop appliance.
A father cooks with his family on an induction stove. The building electrification movement has been gaining steam as a major climate and clean air solution (Halfpoint Images / Getty Images)