Delaware lawmakers unveil package of bills designed to combat the impacts of climate change

The legislative package includes a measure to reduce net emissions in the state by 50% by 2030 and by 100% reaching net zero by 2050.

The Delaware General Assembly in session at the Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware

Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

This story is part of the WHYY News Climate Desk, bringing you news and solutions for our changing region.

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Delaware lawmakers rallied with environmental advocates and Gov. John Carney in Dover Tuesday as they unveiled a package of bills designed to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in the state and encourage more investment in sustainable energy.

“Climate change is not coming to Delaware, climate change is here,” said Emily Knearl of the Nature Conservancy’s Delaware chapter. “We are absolutely dealing with climate challenges. There are choices we can make every day and beyond to reduce the impact of climate change.”

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Among those choices are a new slate of bills now up for consideration in Legislative Hall. The centerpiece of that package is House Bill 99, which would set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. It would require the state to update its climate action plans and to consider climate change impacts when making planning decisions, such as not developing in flood-prone areas.

“Talk is cheap, unless we put it into action,” said Gov. Carney. “Today, through HB 99, we are announcing a significant and ambitious timetable to reach the elimination of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere.”

The state has made other moves in recent years to address climate change and environmental concerns, including the introduction of a climate action plan, a ban on plastic bags, and funding for improving access to clean water throughout the state.

“HB 99 will use a ‘whole of government’ approach to aggressively reduce net emissions by 50% by 2030 and by 100% reaching net zero by 2050,” said state Rep. Debra Heffernan. Under the legislation, those reductions would be made from the baseline numbers set in 2005. “Not only will these efforts improve our state’s environmental health, but reducing these harmful emissions will have a health benefit for residents.”

Companion legislation to HB 99 includes a bill that would make electric vehicles more  affordable. State Rep. Sophie Phillips said the measure would “close that gap in cost,” along with another bill to expand EV charging stations.

“One bill will codify an existing clean vehicle rebates program that allows for up to a $2,500 rebate for electric vehicles, up to $60,000 in retail price,” Phillips said. “Another  [bill] will require DNREC and DelDOT to assess the availability of residential charging stations for electric vehicles and to develop a similar incentive program to improve the EV charging infrastructure throughout our state.”

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Under the federal Inflation Reduction Act, the climate law Congress passed last year, consumers qualify for $7500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases.

The state climate package also includes the following:

  • House Bill 9 calls for all state-owned and operated passenger and light-duty vehicles to be zero-emission by 2040. That would gradually increase from 15% by 2026, 25% by 2029, and 50% by 2032.
  • House Bill 8 would allow the state to consider “clean construction preferences” using sustainability and carbon impact data when awarding public works contracts.
  • House Bill 11 would require 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 10 would gradually increase the percentage of electric school buses operating in the state by 5% every year until it reaches 30% by FY2030.

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen says taking action to reduce the state’s impact on climate change is not only crucial for the environment, but for all of humanity. She said not acting can help fuel a new term she learned from the American Psychiatric Association: eco-anxiety.

Eco-anxiety can lead to “feelings of being overwhelmed and distressed about what we’re seeing and experiencing as the effects of climate change, not just increasing storms or sea level rise, rising temperatures and heat related illnesses,” Hansen said.

Environmental advocates like the Nature Conservancy’s Knearl are hopeful these measures get quick approval. She encouraged residents to “help make things better” by taking action on their own, “and just encourage people to educate themselves on the [climate change] issue.”

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