At midnight on Monday, April 10, the 2023 Maryland General Assembly came to a close, marking the end of another exciting state legislative session!
During this year’s 90-day session, TNC was hard at work to move legislation key to our mission and our values. We prioritized legislation addressing key issue areas such as climate mitigation, nature-based solutions for resilience, biodiversity and advancing equity through policy.
TNC is striving for a greener, more resilient Maryland through policy solutions that work for people and the planet.
Maryland must take bold and aggressive action now to make our state’s climate-smart future a reality.
In 2022, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Climate Solutions Now Act, which set highly ambitious—yet achievable—state emissions-reduction goals. This year, we saw a state-wide focus on policy to implement the Climate Solutions Now Act.
Governor Moore and his administration’s dedication to mitigate climate change has catalyzed increasing momentum and opportunities to follow through on Maryland’s goals. Governor Moore has set his sights on achieving 100% clean energy by 2035. Maryland must take bold and aggressive action now to make our state’s climate-smart future a reality.
During the 2023 session, TNC advocated to establish attainable pathways for Maryland’s highest emitting economic sectors to reduce their climate impact. Currently, the transportation sector is the largest emissions source in our state and across our region.
We’re aiming to address this through new laws like the Clean Trucks Act of 2023, which will require manufacturers to sell an increasing annual percentage of zero-emissions trucks and buses in Maryland starting in 2027. Heavy-duty vehicles are the most significant pollutant sources within the transportation sector. This new law will reduce climate impacts, as well as improve air quality and decrease occurrences of health risks associated with heavy-duty vehicle pollutants.
TNC also advocated for a new law that has been a priority for Governor Moore and the administration: the Clean Transportation and Energy Act. This addresses emissions from light- and moderate-duty vehicles by increasing access to electric vehicles and charging stations across Maryland. It also invests in improving residential energy efficiency.
As we prepare to transition to a clean-energy economy, it is imperative that a higher cost burden doesn’t fall on low-income households. Several new laws passed this session will ensure equitable clean energy roll-outs across the state. The Low-Income Energy Efficiency legislation commits to ensuring that energy-efficient home upgrades, which not only reduce energy bills but also improve residents’ health, are accessible to all Marylanders.
Another new law establishes a permanent Community Solar Program. This program will accelerate Maryland’s renewable energy roll-out, allow subscribers to receive discounted rates on their energy bills, and dedicate at least 40% of the energy output to low-to-moderate income subscribers, or subscribers who reside in historically underinvested areas. Maryland’s climate-smart future will only be attainable if it is inclusive of all Marylanders.
Preparing the electric grid for increasing renewable energy development and consumption will set our state up for success as we pursue net-zero emissions economy-wide. The recently passed Promoting Offshore Wind Energy Resources Act, or POWER Act, sets updated offshore wind energy generation goals and will manage competitive offshore wind transmission procurement in the state. This demonstrates increasing investment in renewable energy and further commitment to our state’s climate goals.
These new climate mitigation laws exemplify Maryland’s motivation to follow through on our climate commitments. Through proven, effective, data-driven actions in our state and local governments, agencies and programs, we can work to build a reliable pathway to achieving net-zero emissions economy-wide while investing in new, clean energy sources and providing equitable access to clean energy and energy-efficient technologies.
Identifying priority areas for Living Shorelines will allow Maryland to increase resilience for coastal communities.
Restoration, Conservation and Resilience
Through conserving and restoring ecosystems and implementing nature-based solutions, we can build resilience in natural and human environments.
We are very excited to share that a TNC land conservation priority bill, the Maryland the Beautiful Act, passed this session. This new law will protect the natural environment by preserving existing habitat and species and will provide natural climate solutions through ecosystem services including carbon sequestration. Newly established revolving loan funds will empower land trusts to protect and preserve the natural environment across the state, from marshlands of the Eastern Shore to the mountains of Western Maryland.
Recently passed Forest Preservation and Retention legislation will strengthen protections for Maryland’s forest lands that have been provided by the Forest Conservation Act, which was first enacted in 1991. These increased protections will work to combat flooding, stabilize temperatures and reduce air pollution while preserving priority habitat areas and alleviating increasing development pressure on forests and tree canopies.
The newly established Maryland Forestry Education Fund will increase available resources to support sustainable forestry activities across the state, including investments in educational resources to support forest conservation. 1.87 million acres of Maryland’s forested lands belong to private and family forest owners. These landowners’ forests supply massive clean air and water benefits, provide critical species habitat and are vital to climate resilience in Maryland. Investments that improve forestry stewardship on privately owned lands are vital for maintaining Maryland’s biodiversity and lead to more resilient forests across our state.
In addition to protecting our lands’ health, TNC has also advocated for our bay’s health. This session, we worked alongside partner organizations to pass a new law to establish a Restorative Aquaculture Pilot Program. This program encourages restoration and conservation in the aquaculture industry. It will build on the success of the Supporting Oyster and Aquaculture Restoration (SOAR) Program established during the COVID-19 pandemic that has since received Federal funding to continue in Maryland this past year. The pilot program is another step forward in the long road to the Chesapeake's oyster recovery, which is an important factor in improving the bay’s overall health.
Promoting Accessibility & Equity
Working to promote physical access and equity in conjunction with advancing economic accessibility and equity in Maryland’s green and renewable future.
The newly created Greenspace Equity Program, which has been a TNC conservation and environmental justice priority, will enable local land trusts, local governments and community organizations to access grant funds for creating and stewarding public greenspaces in urban areas. This includes community gardens and parks, woodlands, trails and urban farms.
Residents living in urban areas have frequently been sidelined in the decision-making process when it comes to lands in their own community. Abandoned properties have stood vacant for years due to cost barriers to repurposing the land. These grants will enable community leaders and members to access the necessary resources to guide how land parcels within their neighborhoods are used in order to better meet residents’ needs.
The new program specifically targets urban heat islands and historically underinvested neighborhoods to support residents’ physical and mental health. Greenspaces improve local air quality, which can reduce rates of respiratory illnesses. Mental health benefits include stress recovery, improved mental well-being and increased community connectivity. These spaces also create new recreational and educational opportunities within communities and reduce climate impacts.
TNC has worked closely with key partner organizations to strongly advocate for this important legislation’s passage. The Greenspace Equity Program will provide access to much needed financial support and increased decision-making power. This will improve communities’ ability to create spaces that will provide access to nature and all of its benefits.
During the legislative session, TNC also advocated for passing the Outdoor Preschool License Pilot Program. Outdoor preschool programs provide nature-based early learning and childcare opportunities that meet young children’s educational, health and safety needs. By licensing these institutions, Marylanders will have increased access to nature-based, affordable and high-quality early learning and child-care programs. Access to nature is beneficial to Marylanders of all ages.