Howard County Councilmember Christiana Rigby has introduced two pieces of legislation that, if enacted, would help Howard County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and help position the county to achieve the carbon reduction goals and timeline that were established by new Maryland law, the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 and County Executive Calvin Ball's 2022 climate action executive order. Specifically, the proposed legislation will provide for renewed investment in public transportation services and move the County closer to requiring all new buildings to be all-electric.
CB4-2023: The Transit Investment Act
CB4-2023 - the Transit Investment Act - would focus on the transportation sector. The bill would create a new source of revenue for public transportation in Howard County by requiring rideshare companies (e.g. Uber and Lyft) to send $0.25 for each ride originating in Howard County to the Office of Transportation to help boost our fixed-route transit system. The collection would established a transit services improvement fund that would be used to invest in extra buses, expanded routes, and better bus stop infrastructure in Howard County. Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Baltimore City, Ocean City, Frederick, Annapolis, and Brunswick have already impose this assessment on trips originating in their respected jurisdictions, given that increases in ridesharing has caused an increased financial strain on transit systems and contributes to traffic congestion.
According to a fiscal impact analysis of the bill, the proposed legislation is estimated to generate $531,000 annually. The proposed bill specifies that this revenue must be additional to existing appropriations and cannot supplant ordinary appropriations for public transit.
The services that would be funded with this additional revenue have not yet been specified, but options include the following:
the purchase of additional buses
the purchase of electric vehicles and/or charging equipment to reduce RTA fleet’s carbon footprint
funding of additional improvements to bus stops or bus facilities
operation of new fixed route service
funding the increased incremental cost of required ADA service
In a separate but related initiative, the County is in process of updating its Transit Development Plan. The Transit Development Plan is a short-term plan to guide transit system development and funding, and includes assessing the current transit services, identifies unmet transit needs, and develops a recommended plan for improvements over the next five years. CB4-2023, if enacted, could help fund the projects that the transit development plan identifies.
The Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland (RTA) is projected to provide 640,000 passenger trips in Howard County this fiscal year and the County has a goal to reach 1,000,000 trips by FY25. Enhancing public transit through investment in transit infrastructure makes transit more attractive and leads to increased transit utilization and ridership; helping to reduce emissions in the transportation sector since public transportation produces significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles.
CB5-2023 - Clean New Buildings Climate Act
CB5-2023 – the Clean New Buildings Climate Act - is proposed legislation that would be an initial step in considering whether Howard County should update its building codes to require all new-construction buildings be all-electric. The legislation, if enacted, would not actually modify building codes; rather it would direct the County's Department of Inspections, Licenses, and Permits to report to the County Council with recommendations about changes to the Howard County Building Code that would be needed to require all-electric buildings. Howard County is next scheduled to consider updates to its building code regulations in Spring 2024.
Any future revision of building codes that requires all-electric buildings would only apply to new-construction structures built after new building codes are adopted. It would have no impact on existing homes or buildings that use gas, and it certainly would not require current or future owners of existing homes to make any modifications to their homes or appliances and equipment within it.
An all electric-building would run entirely on electricity and contain no equipment or appliances that use fossil fuels, such as gas furnaces, gas water heaters, or cooking equipment. Instead, highly-efficient electric heat-pump and induction cooking technologies are used for space heating, water heating, and cooking, resulting in lower energy use and utility bill savings for occupants. Many states, cities, and municipalities across the United States have already adopted building codes that require new-construction be all-electric. Studies have shown that transitioning to all-electric homes and buildings, run on grid electricity that is becoming increasingly cleaner every year as more electricity is provided by renewable energy sources, is the lowest-cost, lowest-risk pathway to decarbonizing buildings and reaching broader climate goals.
Howard County last adopted updated building codes in 2021 via CB71-2021. At the time, Councilmember Liz Walsh proposed an amendment to require all-electric new-construction buildings, but the amendment failed primarily because it was introduced late in the legislative process. CB5-2023 provides an initial step that could set the County up for successfully adopting building codes that require all-electric new construction in 2024.
Residents who wish to provide testimony on these important climate initiatives are invited to sign up to provide feedback on these proposals at the County hearing testimony on Tuesday, January 17 at 7pm. Testimony at this hearing can be provided either virtually or in person. Alternatively, written testimony can be submitted to the Council via e-mail to email@example.com.
Additionally, HoCo Climate Action is collecting signatures to include in a letter to the County Council and the County Executive in support of these climate bills. Please consider adding your name to their letters by clicking these links.