In this season of Connect the Dots, Rob explores environmental justice and climate wins across the country and how we can replicate those successes elsewhere.
This episode digs into a legislative win in Maryland: the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. What goes into successful policymaking? Spoiler alert: It’s not just lawmakers.
Rob is joined by Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform Katlyn Schmitt, who talks about the efforts to pass the Climate Solutions Now Act and how the bill positions Maryland as a national leader in climate action planning.
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Below is a copy of the Episode 7.1 transcript.
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Rob Verchick: 0:28
This season, we’re exploring environmental and climate justice wins across the country. Now we have wins and when we see them, we need to celebrate them and learn from them. So we’re gonna see how individuals, communities, and states have had an impact and how we can replicate those achievements in other places.
Before we dig into today’s episode, I want to talk about free speech and environmental advocacy in a segment that I’m calling Rob’s Rants and Raves. Today is going to be a rave because I like to start on a positive note. It’s based on a note that I got on my Facebook feed from my friend Ann Leonard who used to run Greenpeace USA. Greenpeace, it turns out, just successfully defended itself against a $100 million lawsuit in a free speech case that was brought against it by a Canadian logging company called Resolute Forest Products.
Over seven years ago, Greenpeace and some individuals working for it had launched a campaign against this logging company using blogs and emails and some reports and so on, basically asserting that resolute was logging in unethical ways, sometimes illegal ways and that it had lost some of its certifications designed to show that it was drawing from forests that were managed in a responsible way. Well, Resolute didn’t like that. And they brought a giant lawsuit that just had a laundry list of claims against it. Some of them had to do with wrongfully interfering with their business operations, defaming them in the public. And they even said that the folks at Greenpeace were involved in racketeering.
They brought those claims in a federal court in the Northern District of California, and the case went on for years. You might think that all sounds extreme, but in fact, cases like this happen more than you might think. lawyers call these cases SLAPP suits. SLAPP is S-L-A-P-P, and it stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. They’re basically tactics of intimidation used by big companies with lots of lawyers.
Often the claims are flimsy, but they have the effect of chilling speech on the part of smaller groups and in particular individuals who are sometimes sued. In the past 10 years, there’s evidence that the fossil fuel industry has targeted more than 150 people in organizations with these kinds of suits. Some states in the US have laws protecting speakers against them, there’s at least one bill in Congress that, if it were passed, would protect people on the federal level. And even the European Union is looking into ways to protect advocacy groups from these kinds of suits.
Now, there’s nothing wrong in itself with a defamation suit complaining that somebody has spread lies about you, and then trying to seek a remedy. That’s what the Dominion Fox case was all about. The one that settled and involved the voting systems company that sued Fox News for spreading falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election, what SLAPP suits are really different. And in fact, here, in this decision of April 21, 2023, a Federal Court finally concluded that every one of Resolute claims should be dismissed. I want to congratulate Greenpeace for sticking to their principles and for making the legal landscape a little safer for the rest of us too. Because we had CPR, our mission depends on our ability to deeply research the facts, develop our own opinions, and communicate them to people like you. That’s what democracy is all about. And that’s why I think that shows like Connect the Dots are so important.
On today’s episode, we’re learning about a legislative win in Maryland, and what goes into successful policymaking. Spoiler alert, it is not just lawmakers. Let’s go back to 2022. The Maryland Climate Solutions Now Act set the nation’s leading interim goal of 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2031. And they had a requirement to reach net zero by 2045. This bill includes one of the most ambitious emissions reduction targets in the whole country with a special focus on buildings. Now, among its other highlights, the law now requires state agencies to consider the long term climate and equity impacts of their policies. It also pilots an electric School Bus program that includes vehicle to grid technology; it requires 100% of the state passenger fleet to be zero emission by 2031. And it establishes a building energy performance standard that requires large buildings to be net zero by 2040. You got all that?
All right. So the Climate Solutions Now Act positions Maryland as a national leader in climate action planning; the former Republican Governor Larry Hogan allowed the bill to become law without signing it. So that’s not a veto. But it is not an explicit endorsement either. Now, the law also created a comprehensive definition of quote overburdened, and quote, underserved communities. That’s important, because those are the communities that are targeted to receive many of the benefits from climate related funding mitigation and adaptation efforts. I spoke to the Center of Progressive Reform’s senior policy analysts, Katlyn Schmitt, about the Climate Solutions Now Act. Katlyn has been deeply involved in this bill’s success. And we’re really lucky to get the inside scoop from her today. Well, Katlyn, thanks so much for joining us Connect the Dots today.
Katlyn Schmitt: 6:40
Thank you so much for having me.
Our episode is when I’m really excited about, because it is about legislative wins and climate change in environmental issues. It’s always fun to talk about wins. That’s a good thing. It inspires us. But the other thing that’s good about it is that we can learn from experience how some people have accomplished certain goals, and then hopefully replicate those. And the idea of talking about legislation today is also important, because I think sometimes we lose track of how important and how possible it is to pass laws in the public interest, right, particularly around climate change. The new act that we’re going to be talking about here in Maryland is something that is called the Climate Solutions Now Act, and it’s positioned to be one of the most ambitious climate initiatives in the country. The other thing that makes it quite interesting is that it also explicitly applies and is concerned with fairness and equity impacts based on communities that are designated as disadvantaged or overburdened. So I want to ask you, Katlyn, if you can take us through some of the highlights.
Absolutely. So the Climate Solutions Now Act is a 105 page law that offers Maryland policymakers a clear path to reducing harmful emissions that pollute our air and climate and will help our state transition with our communities to clean green and renewable energy. So with 3,000 miles of coastline, Maryland is one of the most vulnerable states in the nation to sea level rise. On top of that Baltimore City has some of the highest asthma rates across the nation, it will improve on the state’s current climate goals, setting a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60%, for 2031. With a net zero goal for 2045, setting some of the most ambitious state climate goals across the country. So more specifically, this law will advance steps to help make sure more of Maryland’s buildings and transportation are ready to run on clean energy. It also has specific carve outs to ensure that low to middle income communities or communities that are overburdened by pollution and communities that are considered underserved due to socio-demographic factors reap the benefits of this clean energy transition. So more specifically, the law establishes a climate catalytic capital fund with at least $5 million a year in state funding for climate related projects that will benefit these communities.
Two parts of this that I’m getting, so one is this target of reducing carbon pollution. And then the other is a funding mechanism, making sure that the benefits are enjoyed, received by overburdened, underserved communities. Can you tell me a little bit about this target 60% reduction of greenhouse gasses, those heat trapping emissions, which are mainly carbon dioxide, methane, other sorts of chemicals, and then you say net zero by 2045. What is net zero mean? Because I hear we hear this a lot. And I myself have been working on net zero targets here in the state of Louisiana, but I find that a lot of people don’t understand what net zero means or why it’s important.
Net Zero is an ambitious target and sort of what it means is that the state is completely negating the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by human activity to be achieved by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reducing the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced to zero. So this essentially means the state is running on a clean and green economy that is mitigating any sort of greenhouse gas emissions that might be produced or eliminating them all together.
So that could be maintaining a forest maybe or or a marshland or something that we can scientifically prove is storing carbon dioxide at a particular rate.
Absolutely. And so to that end, the Climate Solutions Now Act to actually invest millions of dollars and Maryland’s Healthy Soils program. Because healthy soils are shown to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and sequester meaning the healthy soil literally sucks up carbon dioxide that’s in the atmosphere.
So this results in even short term benefits. It sounds like to me, I mean, reducing carbon and then reducing the rate of climate change is a very long term goal. But in the short term, we get healthier soil, we get more forests and tree cover, we get less pollution from other sources that might be producing soot, or ozone or those kinds of things. Is that a selling point? Do you think to the public?
Absolutely, at times, climate change can seem like such an amorphous thing to tackle, it’s a global issue. But we need to start thinking about sort of implementation steps at the state level and how we can impact things locally. So there are various sorta parts of the Climate Solutions Now Act that help incentivize that motivation towards meeting our clean energy goals. But also, we have sort of carve outs in the bill for environmental justice communities and ensuring that our state agencies like the Maryland Department of the Environment are considering how climate change has disproportionately impacted communities, and then building those considerations into their agency decision making processes.
So tell me a little bit about that. What is an environmental justice community?
An environmental justice community, of course, is a broad concept in Maryland, it refers to both communities that are at a heightened risk of disproportionate environmental harm, and to communities that have suffered from disproportionate environmental harm. In our Climate Solutions Now Act, we pass definitions for underserved communities, which speaks to socio-demographic factors such as race, income, and linguistic ability. And we also talk about overburdened communities, which really looks at different pollution data sets to demonstrate how much pollution burden a particular community is facing due to the existing pollution sources such as industrial facilities, or construction activities, etc. So what the bill does is in a number of ways, it carves out protections for these communities in terms of requiring the state agencies to implement different sort of activities that will protect these communities as the state transitions. But also the bill would ensure that funding goes to these communities as well. So in line with the federal justice 40 initiative, Maryland’s law carves out about 40% of the climate benefits and all of the funding benefits associated with this bill to go to communities that are considered underserved or overburdened.
And the justice 40 initiative at the federal level that you point out, that’s uh an initiative to Similarly make sure that 40% of the benefits of these investments that are coming from the federal government go to historically disadvantaged communities, does this mean that for instance, if you had a household in an underserved community, what could they do with the funding is this sort of thing where they could make their homes more efficient, change out the windows to make sure that they’re using electricity more efficiently?
Absolutely. Weatherization and electrification are a really big part of the climate capital catalytic fund. And the Maryland Clean Energy Center, which is Maryland’s Green Bank, has been really charged with trying to partner with these communities to not only build capacity for these communities to apply to funds, for instance, it really covers a broad swath of various activities. I think the biggest one, though, is weatherization of residential home buildings that are shared by multiple tenants. So in Maryland, we’ve gotten a lot of issues with ensuring that that landlords are on board with these weatherization changes, and that they don’t pass along the increased costs associated with sort of the construction of of those activities to the tenants, because in the long term, there’ll be reaping the benefits and reduce energy costs.
How did this law get passed under the eyes of a Republican governor? I imagine that first of all, you need a coalition of voters As members of the public, various sectors of the public who are interested in something like this, and you’re going to need expertise and how the legislative process works, and you’re going to need expertise in what sorts of things should be in the bill, what’s realistic, what isn’t. You, of course, our policy analyst at its Center for Progressive Reform, who has been on the cutting edge of legislative initiatives. And even before that you were at Waterkeepers at Chesapeake. So I want to start with that.
So there’s a really large role for research groups like the Center for Progressive Reform to play in the advocacy field. But at the state level, it does seem to be sort of a bit more accessible for groups like us. And oftentimes, decisions are made. And unfortunately, if there’s no one at the table to sort of speak to a particular point, the decision is just made, regardless of whether or not it has any merit or not.
So it’s really important that you have all the stakeholders at the places where decisions are made regarding amendments around the bill, who were the stakeholders, in this case, law makers, of course, leadership within the General Assembly, but then you have a whole host of other stakeholders, oftentimes the climate and environmental justice community is lumped together as a stakeholder, we’ve got industry representatives from the fossil fuel industry, various associations, so the various counties have associations, there’s many groups that really come to the table if they feel they’re going to be impacted by a law. So there’s that tension sort of between opposing viewpoints, sometimes misinformation is spread.
And that’s really where a group like us can come in to really make an impact is to shut down any sort of misinformation spread by backed facts and research that really sort of combat that misinformation. We’re working on an environmental justice bill right now. And the Maryland Builders Association has come out and saying that our environmental justice bill will impede residential housing development across the state for low income communities. What’s interesting is that the primary pollutants of concern with residential housing development is sedimentation, or dirt, which is a major problem for water quality, but not so much for the health of Maryland’s communities, because we’re able to sort of come out with that expertise. A lot of legislators have seen right through this means misinformation, and are able to sort of suss out what is true from what is false.
What’s the day look like in pushing for this particular initiative? I mean, you’re working with lots of different groups to help bring all of this together,
What our role is, is to really do their research prior to that legislative session. So we can be able to speak to certain issues that we know might be priority.
I’m just imagining, you might say, Oh, maybe the homebuilders or maybe a group representing landlords might say something like this is going to make building more expensive, or I’m going to have to change out the windows to make it more efficient. And then I’m going to have a lead remediation issue. And these things are going to be more expensive, rent is going to go up, you’re thinking to yourself, somebody might make that argument, and then I have to figure out whether that’s true or not. Right?
Exactly. If you want to do your due diligence, it’s great to also reach out to folks that you know, may be in opposition to our particular policy, to get their thoughts on whether there’s any compromises to be made, that can bring sort of collective goals to the table, ensure that both parties are happy, we want to make sure we’ve become the expert on the sort of matter before that 90 Day legislative session starts.
And once it does start it is it’s lots of meetings, phone calls, text with not only legislators, but you’re partners who are also working towards the same bill or goal, you want to make sure you’re sort of connected to the folks that are on the ground and talking with legislators on a daily basis. And we prepare things like talking points and fact sheets to really speak to oppositional talking points, but also just a breakdown of sort of what the bill does. So it’s really important that groups like us are able to sort of translate the policy impacts in a particular bill.
What are some of the compromises that the pro climate action groups had to entertain? And how did they decide whether or not to make a particular compromise?
Sometimes I think perfection can get in the way of progress. So what’s really important is that you have what we call redlining conversations, really early on with the stakeholders that you are partnered with. We want to talk through potential amendments that could happen to our bill before session even starts, just to make sure we’re clear on where our true goals are. Where is it that we have to maybe walk away from a bill because it will only be detrimental and it won’t be improving our state for the better. What happens early on is you have a really clear amendment strategy just by having those really thorough conversations and dissecting your your policy to make sure that this is where the heart of our bill is, and we know that our communities will want to walk away if for instance, this part of the bill is taken out due to the fossil fuel industry’s lobby.
One of our points was that we would walk away if race was not included in the definition of underserved just because race has been a proven environmental justice indicator time and time again, and especially in Maryland, we’ve got a lot of statistics to back up that race is an indicator of environmental injustice. We did get some pushback on that front, but we were able to sort of lean in and with our people power, we were able to get that piece of legislation this day. So we had language in there to allow for a petition, so that a community could petition to be recognized as an underserved or an overburdened community. Unfortunately, that fell off.
Can you tell me a little bit about implementation and enforcement? Because I know that’s often an under appreciated part of legislation.
So part of it is sort of addressed in the language of the bill, but also a part of it is just ensuring that our coalition members are holding the various agencies’ feet to the fire with those provisions in the bill. So oftentimes, many people are excited to pass a law, but the implementation is not as much fun. So right now, there’s a coalition of 50 climate partners across Maryland, working on various implementation pieces within the Climate Solutions Now Act to advocacy to state agencies, we’ve been writing multiple letters to ensure that agencies are meeting the various deadlines under the bill, the Center for Progressive Reform’s priority within the Climate Solutions Now Act is to ensure that Maryland Department of the Environment actually does outreach and engagement that is meaningful to underserved and overburdened communities. We also want to see sort of climate related benefits being driven to these communities as well,
These stakeholder groups that you talk about whether they’re environmental justice groups or environmental groups, in general, they’re not going away. Their plan is to stay connected. And to bird dog this plan to make sure that it meets its goals. And we at the Center for Progressive Reform, we’re not going away either.
Absolutely. We at the Center for Progressive Reform, just our main priority is making sure that the state follows through on its promises to communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and to underserved and overburdened communities. So there’s a lot of language within the bill that says, unless a project is identified, or unless a community is identified, meaning that these communities could really sort of fall off if other more affluent communities are able to organize more quickly to propose projects to the Maryland Green Bank, for instance. Our job really is to ensure that we’re connecting the Green Bank with communities that are really interested in pursuing the the climate benefits associated with the Climate Solutions Now Act, maybe it’s a group of residents and multi family housing building that that wants to electrify the building and weatherize the building so that they can reduce their energy burden. Our role is really sort of connecting state agencies with communities like that, but also ensuring that they really don’t fall off.
I think that’s a really important point, is I mean, you can make funding available. But these communities, by definition, have a lot of things going on. And these people in these communities are stretched very thin. What do you see the role of Center for Progressive Reform in a large coalition like this, when there are so many talented, smart people,
What the Center is able to provide that is unique is that we are sort of an in depth sort of research and technical organization. There’s lots of organizations out there that that may be better in terms of, for instance, connections with legislators, they might be better on a sort of certain type of policy, such as buildings policy, I love the center, because we’ve got such a wheelhouse of member scholars that we can really weigh in sort of in any policy area and add value to the mix.
You’re not only a policy expert, of course, but you’re a trained lawyer, as several of our analysts, at Center for Progressive reform are you think about client needs and client interests, and you’re often as a lawyer trying to make sure that you are not imposing your own ideas or your own goals on clients or people who are seeking it advice or help from you? How do you make sure that you’re not sort of substituting your own views for the views of people in the community who are ultimately the ones who are going to have to live with whatever these decisions are?
It’s fairly simplistic, but it just takes lots and lots of conversations with folks to make sure where there’s a clear understanding of what we’re trying to achieve, but also a clear understanding of what the community’s needs and desires and goals are during session. We’ll have many, many, many oftentimes weekly conversations with different coalition’s and stakeholders, as a bill sort of develops or changes or we hear of a sort of a new concern or proposed amendment. It is sort of a never ending conversation to make sure that we’re both on the same page and that no one is left out.
Oftentimes, it does take sort of the explanation of we unfortunately, just this year cannot pass this bill as a perfect form of what we’d want. However, we could get these three pieces in this legislation that will really have positive impacts on our state. And so if we allow this to move forward, we’re not going to get everything we can, but maybe in a future year, we’ll be able to do so. So it’s really sort of explaining, sort of, the nature of politics and how some things can really just die if you want to lean in on the perfection point and communities are really sort of aware of that.
That’s well put. Thanks so much. That is Katlyn Schmitt, policy analyst of Center for Progressive Reform. Thanks for listening to Connect the Dots, a podcast by the Center for Progressive Reform. For more information, visit us at progressivereform.org. Or follow us on Instagram @progressivereform, or catch up with us on Twitter @CPRblog. If you liked this podcast, please subscribe. And don’t forget to leave us a review. It helps us to reach more listeners like you who want to connect the dots on today’s most pressing issues. I’d like to thank our guest today, Katlyn Schmitt, as well as our producer Maggie Dewane and editor, Courtney Garcia. Our theme music is by Lobo Loco and Blue Dot Sessions. I’m Robert Verchick and until the next time be safe and take care of one another.