The Maryland General Assembly delivered both disappointments and successes in pursuit of the state’s climate and environmental aspirations as it moved past the crossover deadline on March 18 — the point in the session where most bills have to move from one chamber to the other to stay in the race to pass.

But environmental advocates said they’re not giving up on their efforts just yet, pointing out that there is still time to influence change before the session ends on April 8.

The legislature reviewed both ambitious and more straightforward climate bills this year. Among the most ambitious is the Responding to Emergency Needs from Extreme Weather (RENEW) Act, which seeks to establish a “Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Fund” to mitigate harmful effects of climate change and make Maryland a cleaner, more resilient state.

The legislation was estimated to generate $900 million a year by making oil and gas companies pay for their pollution. The bill is grounded in a landmark “make polluters pay” policy and endorsed by the state’s junior U.S. senator, Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who led federal efforts to charge polluters.

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Environmental advocates called it the most important bill for the legislature to pass this year; it would be entirely funded by the 40 largest international fossil fuel companies operating in the state. Massachusetts, Vermont and New York have proposed similar legislation in recent years.

But the Maryland bill failed to advance out of the Senate Committee on Education, Energy and the Environment after the first committee hearing on Feb. 20. The corresponding House version, HB0915, also did not move out of the House Economic Matters Committee.

Gov. Wes Moore’s administration did not support the bill, which, the advocates said, increased the odds against its passing, given the high political stakes attached to a bill connected to the influential oil and gas interests and their lobbyists.

“The governor looks forward to reviewing legislation when bills hit his desk,” said Carter Elliot, press secretary for the governor’s office, in an emailed comment. He said the governor will thoroughly review them all to ensure the administration is enacting legislation that is in the best interest of all Marylanders.

“It is unfortunate that the General Assembly and the administration didn’t want to consider revenue sources for climate work,” lamented Kim Coble, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters’ Maryland chapter.

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She said bills like the RENEW Act or a bill establishing a cap-and-invest program, which would have generated $300 million for climate action, didn’t move out of the House.

“We all know that it’s going to take significant resources to achieve the state’s climate and environmental targets. And there’s no progress this year,” Coble said, adding that her organization was in talks with the political leadership over a controversial bill seeking to exclude power-hungry data centers from preliminary environmental review.

Advocates believed the Reclaim Renewable Energy Act, which sought to remove trash incineration from the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), would generate broad support among legislators. Trash incinerators, like the one in Baltimore off Interstate 95, emit some of the most toxic pollutants for which there is no safe level of exposure, such as lead, mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Last year, a similar bill was aimed at removing trash incineration, factory farm gas and woody biomass from the state’s RPS and failed to pass, so those supporting this year’s proposal hoped narrowing its priorities would ensure its passage.

In recent days and weeks, advocates repeatedly called on Sen. Brian Feldman, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Energy and Environment, to put the bill to a vote and also asked Senate President Bill Ferguson to get behind the legislation. The bill has not yet made it out of the committees in either of the chambers. The Moore administration also did not put its political weight behind the bill.

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Jamie DeMarco, Maryland policy director of the advocacy group Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) said that none of the four bills the organization prioritized crossed over this year, among them the RENEW Act, the Reclaim Renewable Energy Act and the Better Buildings Act, which required that new buildings heat water and space with electric appliances and an electric- and solar-ready standard for certain buildings.

“We are still fighting to save the Better Buildings Act because it has no fiscal note, it doesn’t cost the industry anything because it’s cheaper to build all electric. And the governor and four dozen organizations have endorsed it,” said DeMarco. “If we can’t pass this simple climate legislation, I don’t know how we’re going to meet our climate goals. This is supposed to be the easy part. And we’re running into dead ends.”

HB24, a bill that requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to evaluate the climate and environmental equity impacts of projects before approving certain environmental permits, has irked advocates but nevertheless crossed over from the House to the Senate.

“Instead of addressing the concerns put forward by communities, MDE is using a 30-year-old list of permits to prioritize how it allocates limited agency resources to address environmental injustice,” a residents’ coalition group said in its written testimony submitted to the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee on March 5.

The group pointed out that the bill excluded air pollution permits from environmental review, which is the main public health concern for environmental justice communities like South Baltimore’s Curtis Bay or those next to an incinerator off I-95.

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“[I]t covers many water permits, but it does not address the pollution sources most dangerous for human health,” the coalition said in the testimony. “We worry that this bill will require MDE to spend significant staff time conducting reviews that will not meaningfully address the most serious environmental justice and health concerns raised by communities in Maryland.”

But all is not lost. Energy justice advocates are excited about the prospects for the passage of SB0001, which would institute certain regulatory requirements for the retail choice industry in Maryland.

In 1999, Maryland moved to a fully deregulated energy market after enacting the Electric Customer Choice and Competition Act. Also known as “retail choice,” it allowed the third-party suppliers to purchase energy from the wholesale market and sell it to businesses and residents at a different rate, on the premise that such competition will drive down rates.

Instead, an unsupervised, deregulated energy market opened the door to deceitful bait-and-switch practices by retail suppliers who would hook customers on low introductory rates, then increase them if a payment was missed. Another common practice routinely employed was “slamming,” where salespersons use customers’ utility account numbers to take over their accounts without their consent.

Energy advocates and some state legislators have long maintained that a deregulated market needed regulatory controls for course correction.

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Laurel Peltier, an energy justice advocate, said that SB0001 would require energy suppliers to prove to the Public Service Commission that the green energy option it is selling to the customers really comes from green sources and then have the rate approved by the PSC. The legislation will also eliminate variable rates and the retail suppliers will be required to price their product the same, or lower, than the energy rates offered by the regulated utilities.

Just as importantly, Peltier said, if passed, the legislation will eliminate the purchase of receivables, which guaranteed that the retailers would be paid by the utilities even when their customers defaulted, and gave the energy retailers great incentive to charge higher rates.

“It’s a top-to-bottom reform of a market that went sideways,” she said, adding that the advocates would be keenly watching how the bill proceeds in the House.

Josh Tulkin, director of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter, identified the Transportation and Climate Alignment Act as another useful bill; it passed the House with amendments. “It is a halfway major step towards addressing broader climate pollution related to transportation planning,” Tulkin said.

The bill would require the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other regional agencies to carry out a climate pollution and Vehicle Miles Traveled assessment of highway expansion projects over $10 million at the design stage to include greenhouse gas mitigation measures like public transit and bike infrastructure near adjacent communities.

“That could be a pretty exciting step toward changing from a highways-versus-transit scenario to how we do transportation planning better,” Tulkin said.

Similarly, the EmPOWER Maryland Reform Bill, which proposes aligning the state’s energy efficiency program with the state’s emissions reduction goals, passed the House with several amendments and will be taken up by the Senate Committee on Education, Energy, and the Environment next.

A similar bill passed the House in 2023 but didn’t receive a vote in the Senate. This year’s legislation would shift the program’s goals from reducing electrical use to reducing climate pollution while maintaining a focus on energy conservation and in-home improvements like weatherization to reduce energy waste.

Bills related to the Chesapeake Bay watershed are also advancing, which the advocates said were encouraging signs.

But despite the positive spin on the legislative outlook more than halfway through the session, the advocates are feeling bittersweet about the progress the General Assembly could make on the state’s ambitious climate and environmental targets.

“Maryland actually has the fifth largest Democratic supermajority in the country. We’re only behind California, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with 72% Democratic majority in both chambers in Maryland, with a trifecta,” said CCAN’s DeMarco.

“We should be passing big, bold, ambitious legislation,” he said. “And that’s not what we’re seeing this year. And as a result, we are missing the window to stay on track to meet our climate goals, which we are legally required to achieve.”

“My sense is that if we don’t come up with a significant funding source for climate, we will not have any chance of meeting the climate solutions now at goals for emission reductions,” LCV’s Coble concluded. “I’d say it’s a swing and a miss on that opportunity. But the need is still there. The urgency is still there. So, that’ll be a top priority between April and next January, and then hopefully next session.”

This story is published in partnership with Inside Climate News, a nonprofit, independent news organization that covers climate, energy and the environment. Sign up for the ICN newsletter here.