Maryland has the most ambitions climate goals in America. Specifically, Maryland committed to a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2031. However, achieving those goals is much easier said than done. Clean transit is a big part of the solution.
Already, Maryland passed a number of bills to expand solutions on solar, wind, transportation issues and more. However, even if all those bills are implemented perfectly and on time, they are not enough to get where we want to go.
That puts a lot of pressure on Maryland’s elected officials to deliver even more solutions. Thus, that’s where real leadership comes in.
Thankfully, when it comes to climate issues, Maryland is blessed with talent and drive – including our super-star State House Environment and Transportation Chair, Delegate Marc Korman.
Earlier I published an interview with his Senate colleague, Senator Brian Feldman, chair of Maryland’s new Education, Energy and Environment Committee. Both Feldman and Korman are Jewish and from Montgomery County. Indeed, there seems to be something very special going in this area!
Korman even met his wife Rebecca – who also is an expert in public policy — on a Birthright Israel trip.
Chairman Korman, like Feldman, is a true hero on climate issues. In Korman’s case he especially shines on sustainable transportation. This includes major help on saving our metro system and requiring that more than 50 percent of Maryland’s bus fleet be zero-emission by 2030.
I was able to interview climate hero Chairman Korman and know you will find his answers both practical and inspiring.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: Chairman Korman – there are so many challenges facing people in Maryland and around the world. You have chosen to do deep and impactful work on the environment and transportation which are climate issues. Why did you prioritize this, and what is at stake?
Chairman Marc Korman: These were among the issues that motivated me to first run for the state legislature about ten years ago. Maryland had been successful in advancing positive environmental and transportation policies, but I felt there was more to do.
For example, at that time Maryland had a small renewable portfolio standard (a renewable energy requirement for electricity) but we could go much further if we put policies in place to achieve that initial goal and then higher numbers. So I spoke about the benefits of energy storage policies that make renewable sources work better.
At the time, California had just adopted first in the country storage requirements. Similarly, the DC-area Metro system—which Maryland funds about a third of—was really struggling at the time. Yes, Maryland had invested billions of dollars and there were hundreds of thousands of daily Marylander riders, but more was needed given Metro’s importance to our transportation network, economic health, and, yes, the environment.
I found these messages resonated with my constituents and voters so although these issues motivated me to knock on that first voter’s door, the response from folks is what powered me forward.
What have been some of your biggest successes?
The legislature is a team sport so I do not have any individual successes, but I am proud that I have worked with my colleagues to pass bills on the issues I spoke about when I was first running. For example, we stood up a Metrorail Safety Commission, improved how Maryland appoints board members that oversee Metro and established dedicated funding to reconstruct the system and draw more riders.
Similarly, we passed a bill exhaustively studying energy storage and required our electric utilities to create multiple storage pilots.
One of my colleagues has now taken that a step forward and created a statewide energy storage goal. We have also put climate risk assessment into our state pension investment plan. But there is plenty more to do.
With any political or policy effort, there are times when you hit brick wall. Can you give us an example of that and how you pivoted to do something that worked better?
Prior to the pandemic, there was a wide scale regional effort called the Transportation & Climate Initiative to put a cap-and-trade system in place for our transportation sector—the largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
In Maryland we had passed legislation I sponsored related to this and worked with our state Department of the Environment to advance it, but it really ran aground with the pandemic as few states formally entered it. So we are now pivoting to other ways to reduce transportation emissions, such as Clean Truck standards and adopting the California Advanced Clean Cars II framework.
You have already made major changes for good. As you get ready for the next legislative session, what are the big challenges ahead?
I’m excited to start a new role as Chair of the Environment & Transportation Committee, one of just six standing committees in the Maryland House of Delegates.
This is the season of implementation in Maryland as we put in place the actual policies necessary to meet our ambitious Climate Solutions Now Act goal of net zero by 2045 and no new internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by 2035. Meeting these goals will require a combination of legislative, budgetary, and executive driven action.
What is your advice for other people who are just getting their start on climate policy issues?
Focus on the actual solutions and not just the goals and big numbers. Reducing emissions from buildings by XX percentage—whatever that figure is—is important and abstract. Setting up the policy framework so that all new buildings are electrified is challenging but specific and achievable.
What is your advice for people who are considering running for office or working in a legislative office?
If you want to run for office, get out there are start talking to people. In terms of working in legislative offices, many understandably look to Capitol Hill (including me, I worked there for about five years), but a lot of progress is happening at the state and local level.
Given the limited time left to act, do you think we can do enough to stop climate change in time? If so, how can people help?
I think the impacts of climate change are here and will be with us for a long time. It’s not a light switch that we can turn on and off, but through local, state, national and international action we can slow the effects and adapt to a changing world. Obviously, Maryland cannot do it alone but we can both do our part and serve as a model for others.