Maryland County of One Million People Moves to Eliminate Fossil Fuel Use in New Buildings by 2026
ROCKVILLE, MD – In a vote with national implications for climate policy, the Montgomery County Council in suburban DC voted 9-0 on Tuesday to exclude the use of fossil fuels in almost all newly constructed buildings by 2026. The massive county of 1.1 million people will now join DC, New York City, and other pioneering jurisdictions in codifying a policy to “electrify everything,” moving away from the combustion of methane gas and other building fuels that warm the planet and damage human health.
The “Comprehensive Building Decarbonization” legislation – Bill 13-22 – will ensure that all-electric building standards become part of the County’s building code no later than the end of 2026, with limited exceptions for hospitals and other facilities needing emergency backup systems or high-energy industrial or commercial cooking facilities. In a state – Maryland – committed to a carbon-free electrical grid in coming years, the Montgomery County bill guarantees that almost all new buildings will be equipped with electric hot water systems and heat pumps for space heating and cooling, creating a zero-greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions future. Typically for an urban jurisdiction, buildings account for more than 50% of Montgomery County’s total carbon emissions.
“We’ve taken a giant step toward cleaner buildings and a better climate today,” said Councilmember and bill lead-sponsor Hans Riemer (D-At Large). “We are confident that other Maryland counties will now follow our lead – and the state General Assembly will follow with its own mandate for fossil-free new construction in just a couple of years.”
Said fellow Councilmember and bill co-sponsor Will Jawando (D-At Large): “A fully electric new home or business is cheaper to build, operate, and better for our kids and our environment.”
Added Mike Tidwell, executive director of CCAN Action Fund: “Hats off to every member of the Montgomery County Council. They have taken global climate science and translated it into sound local policy that benefits everyone. We know our newly elected Maryland governor and leaders nationwide will be inspired by this progress.”
The electrification bill passed despite the robust opposition of the fossil fuel industry and several trade associations and business groups. A coalition of nearly two dozen local and state citizens groups representing thousands of Montgomery County residents encouraged today’s action with rallies, petitions, letters, phone calls, meetings with legislators, and “Electrify MoCo” signs placed in yards throughout the county. In addition to the bill’s climate benefits, advocates focused on electrification’s lower ongoing fuel costs for homeowners and tenants. A recent study from the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel shows how capital spending by the state’s top three utilities to replace and expand the gas system will cost ratepayers upwards of $35 billion over the next 80 years.
Monica O’Connor, one of the organizers of the citizens’ actions, said “The passage of this critical bill would not have have been possible without committed partners such as the Sierra Club, CASA, Interfaith Power and Light, 350 MoCo, The Climate Mobilization Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, Climate Reality MoCo, the Elders Climate Action Maryland, the Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee and many others. We are so grateful to our many partners and allies for their climate leadership and advocacy.”
Advocates also focused arguments on the health impacts of fossil fuels. A growing body of peer-reviewed science shows that the fossil gas piped into many of America’s homes can create significant childhood asthma and other respiratory problems during combustion, as well as constantly leaking cancer-related chemical compounds. Both the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association have recently warned consumers about the dangers of using fossil gas. Damaging and often fatal gas explosions are also a too-frequent result of gas use in homes and buildings.
Montgomery County has been at the forefront of local climate leadership for several years. Today’s action builds on a Climate Action Plan that anticipates county-wide carbon neutrality by 2035 and recently adopted Building Energy Performance Standards for existing commercial buildings.
For more information, see Electrify MoCo coverage on CCAN Action Fund.