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Carney signs climate change bills

Katie Tabeling
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Gov. John Carney shows off the last of seven bills he signed in August to push Delaware to address climate change. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

BEAR —  Against a backdrop of joggers running the paths underneath trees and children walking from Lums Pond with fishing poles, Gov. John Carney signed a package of environmental bills including one that pushes Delaware to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

“You’ve heard me say it before: think globally, act locally,” Carney said at the bill signing ceremony at Lums Pond State Park on Thursday. “Climate change is one of those challenges that we are not going to solve in little Delaware, but we can be part of the movement.”

Chief among the environmental bills signed by the governor at a picnic table under a pavilion on Thursday was House Bill 99, also known as the Climate Change Solutions Act, which spells out the specific benchmarks of reducing net emissions by 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050, using 2005 as a baseline. 

The year 2005 was the peak emissions year in the United States, when coal-fired plants generated half of the country’s electricity. Greenhouse gas emissions in the nation hit 7.26 million metric tons.

Delaware has reduced emissions 27% between 2005 and 2022, or by 6 million metric tons, per projections from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Under the goals outlined by HB 99, the First State would have to reduce emissions by 5 million metric tons in the next seven years – essentially doubling its initial pace.

Carney had prepared comments at the bill signing ceremony, but opted to scrap them once he saw a woman in the crowd with a baby. Instead, he recalled the words of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who served during Carney’s own tenure in Congress: “a leader without followers is just someone out for a walk.”

“If people aren’t following us, we’re not going to make progress. In our [Climate Change Solutions Act] there’s a lot of details, and these bills will put a lot of meat on the bones, starting with HB 99,” the governor said. “We’re certainly not doing this for me, but for that baby and the next generation.”

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen told a crowd that the momentum is now in Delaware to push aggressive goals to reduce the state’s carbon footprint. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown) also came with a member of the next generation: her grandson, William. As a prime champion for the climate change bills, she celebrated the establishment of structure to take on a global issue. But she also noted that the day just signaled the beginning.

“We have the framework and we have the goals. We have to keep top of mind reliability and stability of our grids, consumer cost but also the cost of doing nothing,” she said. “Now we’re moving into the next phase of big issues… and our renewables have to be more than solar. We need to start talking about things we may have been afraid to talk about before: hydrogen, biomass, small molecular reactors.”

“We have to talk about the uncomfortable, because we have aggressive goals,” Hansen continued. “We have the structure in place, we have the people in place and now we have the charge to make it happen.”

Other bills Carney signed include: 

  • House Bill 10 which establishes targets for the annual purchase of state-owned electric school buses through FY 2030, gradually increasing the percentage of electric buses. Delaware has roughly 500 state-owned school buses.
  • House Bill 11 which requires new commercial buildings with a foundation footprint of 50,000 square feet or greater to meet standards ensuring that their roof is able to support solar infrastructure. 
  • House Bill 12 which codifies the existing Clean Vehicle Rebate program offered by DNREC since 2014 to incentivize the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles, including used cars. To date, the program has provided more than $9 million in rebates for electric vehicle buyers.
  • Senate Bill 103 (amended) which requires newly constructed single-family and multi-family residential dwellings to include certain electric vehicle charging infrastructure. As amended, multi-family dwellings includes only boarding houses, hotels and motels and clarifies that homes that do not have a garage must have an electric vehicle parking space in the home or on the street in the project.
  • Senate Bill 170 which directs the state to work with the PJM Interconnection and other states to study the transmission impacts of offshore wind development and issue a report.
  • Senate Bill 7 which updates and expands the State Energy Office.

House Speaker Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) thanked Carney for his vision in the legislative package known as the Climate Action Plan – and said that the seven bills signed today were just the beginning.

“We will have a whole new package of bills next year, and we will continue this fight,” Longhurst said.

Gov. John Carney signed several bills, including one that authorize the study of offshore wind and how Delaware can best make an impact in the rising industry. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

Carney has identified the First State’s part in addressing climate change as one of the lingering issues left in his final months in the office. He told the Delaware Business Times that he felt good that the landmark HB 99 was signed into law under his watch and what he said was more collaboration.

“There was resistance, and that is understandable because the future determined by this approach is undetermined,” he said. “What’s the effect on businesses, jobs and whole industries? But it’s one of those issues that is existential in so many ways — probably more important than anything that any of us would want to deal with.

“We have a lot of work in the next year and a half, but fundamentally, this transition is going to be for the next governor. All I can do is set the table,” the governor continued.

Worldwide, the primary contributors to emissions outside coal is electricity generation and transportation. While Delaware imports most of its electricity, transportation still is the prime way the First State can address the issue.

“The fact of the matter is even if we didn’t push the transition to electric vehicles, we would have to do it to meet the EPA emission standards put on transportation,” the governor added. “What we have to think of is that this doesn’t affect our immediate tomorrow. But it does require us to start taking action today, tomorrow, next week and next month.”

With a new study on offshore wind on the horizon, Carney noted that the state has long had issues with the transmission and electric grid in southern Delaware. In fact, the last remaining coal-fired plant in Millsboro will remain running until possibly 2026 to maintain power.

“In our National Governors Association meetings, there’s a lot of talk about electric grids and the need to have one to accommodate all those solar projects and other big projects,” he said. “It’s something not a lot of people think about, but it’s top on my radar.”

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