Issue: Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise globally with devastating effects. Fortunately, both Montgomery County and the State of Maryland have each set ambitious goals and drafted plans for addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The key questions are how to achieve these goals, when, and at what costs?
- Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GGE)
- County Climate Action Plan
- Energy Use Standards for Buildings
- MCPS Sustainability Plan
- State Plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Wind Power Offshore in Maryland
- Solar Power in the Agricultural Reserve
- Other County environmental efforts: ban on plastic straws, ban on #6 plastic containers, ban on gas powered leaf blowers (proposed), climate impact assessments required on bills, flooding website, SEED classroom at Black Hill Regional Park
- Other State environmental efforts: ban on PFAS chemicals
Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Latest UN report. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its 6th Annual Report in April 2022. Its findings were similar to previous reports: that climate change is already causing more frequent and more severe storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, higher temperatures, and other extreme weather events. The report shows greenhouse gas emissions [GGE] continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—a threshold scientists believe is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts. The report also confirmed that greenhouse Gas Emissions are not evenly distributed—the wealthiest countries are responsible for disproportionately more emissions than developing countries, even though developing countries are experiencing more severe climate impacts. For somewhat more optimistic [but still realistic] opinion, see this op-ed piece by former Vice President Al Gore.
Updated 10 January 2023
County Climate Action Plan [CAP]
Countywide greenhouse emissions down by 30 percent 2005-2020. Montgomery County community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions decreased by 30 percent between 2005 and 2020, despite a 13 percent growth in population, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments GHG emission inventories.
The inventory for Montgomery County covers GHG-emitting activities from the entire community, including county government, businesses, industry, residents, and visitors.
Said County Executive Marc Elrich, “Our countywide efforts, including moving toward electrification and away from fossil fuels, encouraging electric vehicle adoption, planting more trees and making it easier and safer for people to bike and walk, are all contributing to our goals to cut GHG emissions 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035.”
See the press release for additional details. For more information about Montgomery County’s GHG emissions trends, including inventory data, fact sheet and quarterly climate action work plan updates, visit the climate action portal.
The County has set significant targets, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring that 100% of all electricity consumed in the county is carbon free in the next 12 years. This will be done through further expanding solar, electrifying the County fleet, investing in electric vehicle infrastructure, and, according to the County Executive (CE), continuing to implement and improve upon “smart and innovative policies on building energy standards.” (See the Council’s Energy Use Standards for Buildings passed at the end of 2022 session.). In addition the CE has stated that “We must also drive home the message that our roads are meant for more than just cars.
09/2022: Montgomery County has released its first Climate Action Plan Annual Report, a work plan detailing Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) accomplishments and Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) plans to combat climate change. The report highlights 75 accomplishments in the first year since the plan was released in June 2021. A report on accomplishments during the first quarter of FY23 (July 2022-Sep 2022) is available here.
05/23/2022: On May 2, County Executive Marc Elrich signed the Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) legislation (Bill 16-21) into law. The new law expands the number of buildings covered by the County’s existing Benchmarking Law to include additional County-owned, commercial and multifamily buildings and establishes long-term standards for those buildings and requires the use of less energy.
05/23/2022: The County published its third quarter (3Q) 2022 update to its Climate Action Work Plan. Highlights include the latest to improve clean energy generation, building construction codes, transportation, carbon sequestration, climate adaption (e.g., enhance storm water management), and climate governance.
02/20/2022: The County has published its 2022 Work Plan 2Q Updates.
01/10/2022: The priority actions in the Climate Action Plan are shown beginning on page 97 [page 64 of the pdf format]. According to its Work Plan, the County anticipates taking action on 75 out of 86 CAP actions in FY22. See the list beginning on page 7 of the Work Plan.
09/28/2021: County Council [see staff report] approved the Executive’s regulation adopting the International Green Construction Code that governs all new buildings over 5,000 square feet.
06/23/2021: County Executive [CE] Elrich released the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Climate Work Plan, which anticipates action on 75 of 86 recommendations in the Climate Action Plan in FY22. See the list beginning in the middle of the CE’s press release.
See also Earlier Updates below after the section on Background.
Background: The county’s goal is an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions [GGE] by 2027 and 100% by 2035. See County’s Climate Home Page here
To achieve this goal, the County Executive established a working group of citizens and organizations to create a Climate Action Plan. The Plan covers changes in:
- Clean energy generation
- Carbon sequestration
- Public engagement
- 04/12/2021: State passes bill that enables County to conduct community choice energy pilot program that would allow the County to pool the electricity demand of residents and purchase electricity on their behalf from sustainable sources.
- 04/12/2021: County Executive criticized by some for slowness in introducing climate legislation
- 04/01/2021: County Executive introduces bill to require all commercial or multifamily residential buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet government-set energy efficiency standards over the course of 15 years, starting in 2022. According to county data, such buildings account for 50 percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- 02/28/2021: Public comments on the working group’s draft plan closed 28 Feb. See detailed comments submitted by the Climate Mobilization Coalition of Montgomery County and by the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club.
- 02/24/2021: Presentation via Zoom by the County on the draft CAP
- Montgomery County Civic Federation [MCCF] May Newsletter has an excellent summary of county actions to date [starting on page 4] and two very good articles on what individuals can do about climate change on page 3 and on page 8.
- The county executive’s press release
- Overview of recommendations
- List of all recommendations
Energy Use Standards for Buildings
It is estimated that buildings create 50% of County’s total emissions. The Council passed two bills in 2022 that will affect buildings in the County.
In April, the Council passed a bill intended to establish building energy performance standards that specific buildings will have to meet in the coming years in order to reduce their overall carbon footprint. The standards apply to multiple types of commercial and residential buildings in the county that have a gross floor area of 25,000 square feet or more. A board of industry and civic representatives, nominated by the County Executive and approved by the Council, will advise the Council on interim and final standards for each building type. The standards must be ready by the end of 2023.
In November 2023, the Council voted unanimously to pass Bill 13-22, which will require the County Executive to issue all-electric building standards for new construction by Dec. 31, 2026. The bill included exemptions for emergency backup systems and certain uses such as manufacturing, crematories, life sciences and commercial kitchens. In addition, income-restricted housing and schools have an extended timeline. Pepco and PJM, the manager of regional grid of which Pepco is a member has expressed reservations, summarized in a blog by Adam Pagucco, about its capacity for handling the requirements imposed by the bill.
Updated January 10, 2023
MCPS Sustainability Plan
School policies. According to the Bethesda Beat, The Montgomery County school board is considering updating its sustainability policy, with an “extremely aggressive” goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in five years. The target would align with the county’s “climate action plan” unveiled in June by County Executive Marc Elrich.
State Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- 05/23/2022: In its recently concluded legislative session, the General Assembly passed, and the governor signed the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. The law will require the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2031 and reach net zero emissions by 2045. It also requires owners of large commercial and apartment buildings to cut their carbon emissions or face fines; provides tax breaks for community solar projects as well as loans to finance large-scale green energy projects; requires transitioning state vehicles and school buses to 100% electric; funds organizations that help underserved and overburdened communities, planting trees, insulating low-income housing, and mitigating air pollution; and provides guidelines for the eventual phase-out of fossil fuels to heat new buildings.
- 12/2021: The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) awarded offshore wind renewable energy credits to the two developers, who collectively have proposed more than 1,600 megawatts of new energy to be built off the coast of Maryland. The PSC set target an operational date of no later than 2026. See this summary article in Maryland Matters.
- 04/12/2021: The House and Senate failed to reach agreement on its major climate initiative bill called Climate Solutions Now Act. However, it did enact bills that called for planting 5,000,000 trees and that requires the MDOT to purchase more electric buses. The legislature also passed a bill that that would require the Public Service Commission — which regulates the state’s gas, electric and water utilities and signs off on new power plant construction — to consider climate impacts in its decisions.
Background: In December 2020, the Maryland Department of the Environment [MDE] updated its greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan; it now calls for a 50% reduction of GGE by 2030. According to MDE, the plan also will produce better air quality by reducing emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution. And it will improve water quality through reductions in nitrogen pollution to the state’s waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay.
- See this article in Maryland Matters regarding environmental legislation in the 2021 session.
Maryland’s offshore wind portfolio is poised to grow substantially following the PSC decision in December 2021 to award offshore wind renewable energy credits to the two developers, who collectively have proposed more than 1,600 megawatts of new energy to be built off the coast of Maryland. See this report in Maryland Matters.
Solar Power in the Agricultural Reserve
Issue: To increase the use of renewable energy and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the County Council considered a zoning text amendment [ZTA20-01]to allow solar power panels to be built in the county’s Agricultural Reserve [Ag Res]. At issue is the environmental benefit that will come from increased solar power generation versus the potential harm to the Ag Res.
Background: There were strong opinions about this proposal on both sides of the issue. The County Council held a town hall meeting to hear from citizens and it formed a Farm Solar Stakeholder Workgroup consisting of representatives of the various stakeholder groups to assist the Council in its deliberations on the proposed ZTA.
- 02/26/2021: The Council approved two amendments, one requiring the Conditional Use process on proposals to build large scale solar panels in the Ag Res and one prohibiting the solar panels on soil types 1 and 2. Some argue that this will effectively prohibit solar in the Ag res.
- See also this opinion piece by State Delegate Kumar Barve, who chairs the MD House Committee on the Environment and Transportation
- Councilmember Riemer, an original sponsor of the ZTA is opposed to these amendments. Those who support these latest amendments have responded to Councilmember Riemer here.
- 01/26/2021: The Council is expected to take up ZTA20-01 on January 26
- 01/17/2021: Most recent statement by those opposed
- 01/17/2021: Most recent statement by those in favor
- 01/11/2021: PHED Committee staff report prior to committee work session
- See these links to read more about the views of those for the ZTA and the views against the ZTA.
- The position of the Montgomery County Food Council can be found here.
- The documents of the Work Group established by the County Council can be found here
information added 02/06/2021
Other County Environmental Efforts
Plastic Straw Ban: The Montgomery County Council has approved a bill phasing out the use of plastic straws at local restaurants beginning in May 2021. For more information see this article from the Bethesda Beat, December 2020.
Ban on #6 polystryrene products now in effect: Rigid polystyrene products are not recyclable, and are marked with a number 6 in the middle of a triangle. According to the county, number 6 products can include: foam and non-foam/rigid containers; bowls; plates; trays; cartons; and cups. For more see this Bethesda Beat article.
Gas Powered Leaf-Blowers Ban: A ban on gas powered leaf blowers has been introduced in the County Council, but has not yet been enacted. At a hearing in September, Councilmembers heard from proponents who say it’s needed to reduce noise and environmental impacts and from critics who say it will hurt businesses and farming community.
Climate Impact Assessments Required: The County Council passed legislation requiring the county Office of Legislative Oversight to prepare a climate impact assessment for proposed bills starting in January 2023. The bill also calls for the Montgomery County Planning Board and Planning Department to conduct climate assessments for zoning text amendments and master plans beginning March 1. See Bethesda Beat July 12, 2022.
Flooding Website: Montgomery has developed a new website that provides information about frequently flooded roads, steps residents can take to prepare for potential flooding, and the availability of flood insurance to all properties in the county. Montgomery County is developing a comprehensive flood management plan to better understand the causes and impacts of flooding and potential strategies to eliminate or minimize the risks of flooding. In June, the County announced a new high-tech flood sensor program to provide earlier alerts to residents about potential flooding.See news release here.
SEED Classroom in Black Hill Regional Park in Boyds, MD. Montgomery Parks anticipates completion of a net-zero energy classroom expected to be opened in February 2023. The building aims to make environmental education fun for all ages. After nine years in development, Boyds’ Black Hill Regional Park will unveil its new self-sustaining Sustainable Education Every Day, or SEED, classroom, a place of hands-on environmental learning. All the classroom’s systems will be left exposed so visitors can see how the building works with their own eyes. Notable features include a green wall – a vertical garden fed by recycled rainwater, solar panels, a composting toilet, a covered deck, and real-time data collection of energy and water use.
Updated January 10, 2023
Other State Environmental Efforts
Ban on PFAS Chemicals:HB 275 Environment – PFAS Chemicals – Prohibitions and Requirements (George “Walter” Taylor Act) passed unanimously (138-0), and is now in the Senate Health, Education & Environmental Affairs Committee. Its cross-file, SB 273, passed unanimously in the Senate on March 1, and is in the House Health & Government Operations Committee.This bill stops the use of toxic, “forever” PFAS in firefighting foam, food packaging, and rugs and carpets.