Imagine a future in which our children can grow up in homes free from health-harming air pollution, people can go outdoors without fear that Baltimore’s smog will trigger an asthma attack and emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses are at an all-time low.

A groundbreaking executive order from Gov. Wes Moore to establish healthy air standards for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and water heaters brings such a future within reach, paying dividends for generations to come.

By directing the Maryland Department of Environment to develop zero-emission heating equipment standards, Moore is taking a major step to fulfill a pledge to accelerate the adoption of heat pumps. Highly efficient electrical equipment heats and cools homes while delivering cost savings to residents.

According to new analysis from the policy research organization RMI, upgrading to a heat pump can save Marylanders on average $740 each year for space heating and cooling. A heat pump water heater provides $380 per year in savings. That means less money spent on utility bills and more money in the pockets of hard-working families to buy groceries and life-saving medication.

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Accelerating the adoption of heat pumps will also make a measurable dent in Maryland’s climate pollution and provide healthier, cleaner air to residents. Among other pollutants, gas, oil and propane heating equipment in buildings emits nitrogen oxides, an air pollutant that forms what’s colloquially known as smog. In fact, Maryland’s buildings alarmingly emit a whopping three times as much health-harming NOx as all the state’s power plants combined. In 2017 alone, pollution from burning fossil fuels for heating the Baltimore area caused an estimated 163 premature deaths and was responsible for $1.3 billion in health impacts annually.

Furthermore, fossil fuel use in buildings represents 13% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The executive order means an ambitious commitment to further cut greenhouse gas emissions from Maryland’s building sector. The good news is that more than a quarter of Marylanders use heat pumps already and 54% of Maryland homes are expected to have heat pumps by 2030. This executive order builds on this momentum further by ensuring the best, most efficient technology will be available to consumers.

Yet, to ensure our most vulnerable residents can reap these benefits, the Moore administration and General Assembly must build on these new standards to push for equity-focused initiatives. The recent passage of the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act is a great start, but work lies ahead to establish clear targets to decarbonize low- and moderate-income homes, scale up programs for whole-home retrofits and begin long-term utility planning to manage the transition of Maryland’s buildings away from increasingly costly fossil fuels.

For decades, unhealthy levels of air pollution have plagued communities like Baltimore. Maryland residents have been forced to wake up to hazy skies and a gnawing tickle in their throats that doesn’t go away because of the polluted air.

But relief is on its way with this new executive order. There’s more work to be done, but by adopting new healthy air standards for HVACs and water heaters this year, Maryland is cementing its position as a national leader on climate change, creating a healthier, more affordable future for the state’s residents.

Ruth Ann Norton is the president & CEO of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.

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