Stories in Maryland/DC

Legislative Priorities: Leading Maryland Forward

We're striving for a greener, more resilient Maryland through policy solutions that work for people and the planet.

View of the Ocean City Maryland skyline. The buildings line the skyline in the distance across an open body of water. Green marshes cut by meandering channels of water are in the foreground.
Front Lines of Climate Change View of Ocean City across the salt marshes in Isle of Wight, Maryland. © Matt Kane / TNC
Maryland state house in Annapolis. On the left three stone columns support a plinth inscribed with the words Under Law. The domed cupola of the main statehouse building rises in the background.
State House Change is here in Maryland. © Rachael Voorhees / Flickr Creative Commons

As the clock approached midnight on Monday, April 8th, the final gavel dropped on Maryland’s 446th legislative session. During this session, The Nature Conservancy advocated for legislation that will prepare Maryland to tackle current and future environmental challenges through policy solutions that work for people and the planet.

Throughout the 2024 Maryland legislative session—and beyond!—TNC's government relations team in Maryland/D.C. has been developing pathways and supporting efforts by environmental partners to advance forward-thinking policies that address issues including climate change mitigation, community-led resilience and investments in nature. 

A black cord connects a white vehicle with a power source.
Electric Vehicles TNC is working in Maryland and D.C. to accelerate a transition to zero emission vehicles and improve access to charging stations. © The Nature Conservancy/Melissa Soysal

Reduce Emissions Economy-Wide: A Breath of Fresh Air

Back in 2023, Maryland set its sights on reducing carbon emissions by 60% of 2006 levels by 2031, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2045. Now, we're working with the legislature and state agencies to put the pieces into motion to turn these goals into reality.

By the end of the 2024 legislative session, seven of the climate mitigation bills we advocated for had successfully passed. These policies will bring advancements to energy efficiency, renewable energy generation and increased access to programs and infrastructure that will bring our state closer to achieving our emissions reduction commitments.

TNC continues to partner with Maryland’s agencies, the legislature, community members and environmental organizations to implement policy recommendations that will reduce emissions economy-wide. We are committed to realizing Maryland’s climate goals and to securing a clean energy future.

  • As we prepare Maryland for a transition to a clean-energy economy, it is vital to implement policies that foster our state’s ambitious renewable energy goals. The Climate Pollution Reduction Plan published at the end of 2023 by the Maryland Department of Environment calls for a Clean Power Standard. This new standard requires 100% of the electricity consumed in Maryland to be generated by clean and renewable sources of energy by 2035.

    In the 2024 legislative session, TNC supported policy initiatives that align with this necessary transition. We worked to advance legislation that will help Marylanders drastically reduce their fossil fuel consumption in an equitable manner.

    One exciting win in this legislative session was the “Working for Accessible, Renewable Maryland Thermal Heat (WARMTH) Act.” The legislation’s advocates and its sponsors, Delegate Lorig Charkoudian and Senator Katie Fry Hester, designed an innovative framework that will promote building decarbonization through networked geothermal energy projects. This will allow pilot programs to be developed that aim to bring clean and efficient geothermal energy access across the state, prioritizing limited income communities.

    Also this legislative session, TNC joined with our partner organizations in support of Delegate Brian Crosby’s bill to update Maryland’s EmPOWER program. The new legislation will continue the program’s focus on weatherization, electric home heating solutions and rebates for energy efficient appliances in order to set clear emissions reduction goals; but also brings the EmPOWER program in line with Maryland’s climate commitments. The updated program enables incentives for switching to electric heating and appliances, and enacts consumer guardrails that direct utilities to deliver savings to ratepayers through in-home improvements.

  • TNC aims to accelerate Maryland’s transition to zero emission vehicles, and improve access to zero emission vehicles and vehicle charging stations. Both battery-powered and plug-in hybrid vehicle registrations in Maryland have been increasing; however, the current rate has not been nearly fast enough to meet our transportation emissions reduction goals. Transportation is the largest source of emissions in our state and our region. We need to reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled and the number of gas-powered vehicles on the road.

    We made some small steps in enhancing electric vehicle accessibility during the 2024 legislative session. The DRIVE Act, led by Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo and Senator Brian Feldman, passed successfully and aims to create a first-of-its-kind bidirectional electric vehicle charging program. Bidirectional charging has the ability to backflow power, which enhances energy reliability in homes, buildings and throughout the grid. Not only will this new piece of legislation prevent future infrastructure expenses related to rewiring to keep up with evolving electric vehicle technologies; it could also make Maryland a national leader in harnessing energy from electric vehicles’ batteries.

    TNC also advocated for legislation to create more consistent requirements and procedures for installing and maintaining electric vehicle charging equipment in multi-dwelling units. This will increase charging access for residents and increase electric vehicle charging availability generally. Limited access to charging stations poses a significant barrier to consumers when deciding whether to purchase an electric vehicle. Delegate Marc Korman and Senator Ariana Kelly put this bill forward as a step toward addressing that barrier.

  • As TNC and our governmental and non-governmental partners work through implementing the new pieces of legislation and strategizing for the next legislative session, we will be keeping in mind some of the bills that didn’t make it through this year and how those policy ideas can still be developed and advanced.

    One reminder for us is that not all renewable energy is created equal. There are big differences between what it means to be renewable, sustainable or clean. We need to change our incentive structure in order to promote energy that meets all three of these descriptions. The grid and its energy sources must be reliable and resilient. Marylanders need energy security, but also sustainable and equitable access to clean energy sources. Currently, Maryland still classifies trash incineration in the top-tier of renewable energy sources. Incineration is amongst the highest-emitting methods for energy production—it releases nitrogen oxides; major precursors of ground level ozone, which triggers asthma attacks—and sulfur dioxide, which also causes and worsens respiratory illnesses. Subsidies for incineration are costing the state increasing amounts of renewable energy funding. TNC intends to advance state investments in healthy, emissions-reducing energy sources that set Maryland up for success in achieving our emissions reduction goals.

    TNC will also be looking to address Marylanders’ transportation and mobility needs through an equitable, collective, sustainable and comprehensive approach. We believe in the need to include both on and off-road strategies. We support policies that will reduce energy consumption for the various transportation modes in our state.

    We are disappointed that an effort to change the electric vehicle excise tax credit to a rebate program failed in the last moments of this year’s legislative session. The Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s Mitigation Working Group, of which TNC is a member, has recommended point-of-sale incentives, such as rebates, as the best practice for motivating electric vehicle purchases. Point-of-sale incentives align better with financing options, sales tax exemptions and existing federal incentives to address financial barriers to electric vehicle purchasing. Going forward, TNC will continue our efforts to increase equitable access to clean transportation options.

A great blue heron stands in water during a sunset.
Great Blue Heron A great blue heron hunts for fish on the Chesapeake Bay. © Matt Kane / The Nature Conservancy

Identifying priority areas for Living Shorelines will allow Maryland to increase resilience for coastal communities.

Build a Community-Led Vision for Resilience

Maryland has a rich and vibrant coastline linked to the lives and livelihoods of its residents. TNC’s mission in our climate adaptation and coastal resilience work is to preserve healthy habitats and communities across our state’s changing coastal landscape. As climate change impacts become more severe and frequent, Maryland’s communities and natural resources will face—and are already facing—challenges, especially tied to coastal flooding.

Over the course of the 2024 Maryland legislative session, TNC’s Government Relations team advocated for new legislation that aligns with our vision for community-led resilience across the state. These efforts included: (1) making coastal resilience funding permanent and more accessible for communities; (2) directing funds to local governments to assist in planning and incorporating climate change into decision-making processes; (3) creating regulations to enhance tidal and non-tidal wetlands’ protections; (4) supporting living shoreline implementation, rather than armored shorelines; and (5) incorporating environmental justice goals within state agencies’ decisions.

While not all of these efforts were successful this year, we saw progress on a few key priorities that will improve the Chesapeake Bay’s health and provide critical flood resilience funding to underserved and overburdened communities in Maryland.

  • Our climate adaptation work in Maryland protects water quality and improves climate resilience at a variety of critical intervention points throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This includes capturing stormwater in cities, working with farmers to reduce nutrient runoff, protecting and restoring critical habitats—like wetlands and oyster reefs—and building resilience in coastal communities.

    Throughout the legislative session, TNC advocated for the Whole Watershed Act, championed by Senator Sarah Elfreth, Senator Katie Fry Hester and Delegate Sara Love. This new legislation prioritizes $20 million in state funding for five waterway restoration projects over five years within the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bays watersheds in Maryland. The selected waterways will represent diverse geographies and land use types, with a priority for environmental justice communities. The “whole watershed” approach requires practices that provide multiple co-benefits to support the entire watershed and local communities’ health. This program will identify impaired watersheds across our state and conduct a comprehensive planning and permitting process to improve water quality on an expedited timeline. The goal is to rapidly remove selected watersheds from the impaired waterways list, thereby improving water quality for humans and habitats across our state.

    Maryland’s vibrant coastline needs legislation like the Whole Watershed Act. We are grateful to the leaders in the legislature and administration who sponsored and supported the program, and to our partners at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters for spearheading this science-based and inclusive approach.

  • TNC has been investing our resources in deep listening and learning with coastal community partners. Environmental justice and equity are essential for allocating climate adaptation resources, but we have a long way to go for fully incorporating equity-based criteria across Maryland’s state grant programs. Accessible and equitably distributed resources must be prioritized to meet the urgent and unique needs of communities facing the first and most extreme climate change impacts. In the 2024 legislative session, we saw some progress on both incorporating environmental justice considerations into decision-making processes, as well as investing in flood management for coastal communities.

    New changes to the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program were made this session. These changes integrate climate adaptation, enhance critical area resilience and support environmental justice in coastal Maryland. The legislation requires the Critical Area Commission to assess critical areas needs with climate change impacts in mind, including sea level rise, wetland migration, storm surge, increased precipitation, coastal flooding and other extreme weather events. It authorizes the Critical Area Commission to adopt regulations governing: (1) development rights transfer; (2) fee in lieu payments; (3) assessing and adapting critical areas for climate resiliency; (4) enhancing resilience in the critical area; and (5) environmental justice and equity initiatives. This policy establishes considerations for climate change, climate resiliency and equity as general principles and minimum elements of local programs.

    A new Comprehensive Flood Management Grant Program, led in the legislature by Senator Alonzo Washington and Delegate Julian Ivey, will require that Governor include in the annual state budget an appropriation for the Comprehensive Flood Management Grant Program of up to $20 million starting in Fiscal Year 26. This bill integrates environmental justice considerations by establishing that at least 40% of funding provided under the Comprehensive Flood Management Grant Program will be used for projects directly benefiting historically underserved, overburdened and marginalized communities. The new funding stream and the environmental justice considerations in this program present an opportunity to catalyze innovative flood management planning. It will bring much needed funding to local governments, allowing them to build flood resilience capacity within their own communities.

  • Climate change impacts are disparate and are not felt equally by all Marylanders. These impacts, including flooding, often burden those who already face historic inequities. Coastal communities’ needs when facing the first and most extreme flooding in our state, especially on the Eastern Shore, have gone unmet for a long time. Planning for climate change’s uncertain impacts, including flooding after storm events, is a highly local and place-based process that is necessary to identify solutions that can meet the unique needs of each community. We need to continue advocating for strong, environmental justice-focused adaptation legislation to tackle the interconnected nature of the climate crisis with equity at its heart. TNC is working with community-led organizations, environmental justice leaders, state and local government officials and national non-governmental organization partners supporting equitable access to funding for adaptation resources in order to get communities the support they need to manage intense and unpredictable climate impacts.

A large wooden sign featuring a painted bee and with the words Honey Bees stands in front of a small urban garden.
Community Garden The Fillbert Street Community Garden provides a green space in South Baltimore's urban and industrial landscape. © Eli Pousson / Baltimore Heritage

Invest in Nature

Investing in nature brings strong returns for Maryland’s natural resources, economy and communities. TNC is focused on supporting programs and investments that ensure economic and environmental benefits are enhanced today and made sustainable for tomorrow. Strong investments in nature support policies with direct returns to our communities and will prepare us to fight the longer-term climate change impacts. 

  • TNC continues to support dedicated, full funding to foundational environmental programs across the state. Programs like The Chesapeake Bay Trust, Program Open Space, and Tree Solutions Now are vital to maintaining natural places’ health and wellbeing in Maryland. In previous years, funding originally meant for these programs has been redirected elsewhere in the state budget. Over time, raiding these accounts leads to underinvestment in conservation outcomes, which decreases these programs’ impacts. These programs provide essential environmental and conservation services. Unfortunately, we saw last minute changes in this year’s state budget to Program Open Space, moving $6.7 million from state-side land acquisition to fund expenses in other state programs. TNC will work with partner organizations, the Maryland General Assembly and the Governor in the next budget cycle to ensure this doesn’t set the precedent for our Program Open Space funding going forward. We are dedicated to seeing essential conservation programs receive the strongest funding levels possible in the years to come. 

  • TNC supports fully funding Maryland’s agencies so that staff capacity is realized, and programs are equipped to accomplish their outcomes. Maryland has a lot of work ahead to continue enacting our state’s ambitious policies like the Climate Solutions Now Act. The state also needs to be able to act quickly to seize opportunities for federal investments available through the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act. Capable and well-resourced agencies are essential to setting Maryland on a path for success.