|The rapid advance of environmental legislation that could have had sweeping implications for Delaware businesses, farmers, and citizens, came to an abrupt halt this week.|
Senate Bill 305 (as amended), known as the Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act, would have required Delaware to reduce its statewide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 (compared to 2005) and by no less than 90% by 2050.
The proposal would have required state agencies to consider the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, the State Climate Action Plan, sea-level rise scenarios, temperature scenarios, and precipitation scenarios when promulgating new regulations. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and many other state agencies already have broad discretion to unilaterally create regulations that carry the weight of law. The bill would have further expanded that authority.
The proposal would have also required agencies to consider the state’s greenhouse gas goals when purchasing goods; siting, building, and maintaining a state facility; planning, designing, and operating state infrastructure; and issuing grants. Introduced on June 2, the bill cleared the Senate just a week later on a contested party-line vote.
The measure was brought before the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday for consideration. Its release would have cleared the way for it to be acted on in the House of Representatives on the last day of the legislative session on Thursday.
Joe Fitzgerald, representing the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, told the committee that many significant stakeholders — such as electric utilities, business organizations, and agricultural groups — were not consulted in the drafting of the legislation and that its late introduction and fast-tracking severely limited opportunities to bring concerns to legislators. He concluded by saying that the measure proposed to convey broad regulatory authority on an unprecedented scope and that additional time was needed to properly evaluate it.
Robert Whetzel, an environmental and energy attorney, told lawmakers he was concerned about the bill’s lack of implementation details. “It asks the agencies to simply adopt a wide variety of plans and scenarios. Many of the scenarios are not even defined.” he said. “It is a legislative function to set policy to establish policy. That’s what this General Assembly has done in the past with the renewable portfolio standards and with other examples of environmental legislation…. This bill is simply overly broad and lacks any direction and frankly, because of that, I think it will lead to some unintended consequences.”
Emily Knearl, representing The Nature Conservancy in Delaware, argued for release of the bill and dismissed concerns the measure not been subjected to due scrutiny. “If I had a nickel for every time I found out about a bill after it had been introduced, I would be a wealthy woman,” she told the committee. “Seventy percent of Delawareans have gone on record that we need to take action. This room is full of everyday people, like myself….You have volunteers, and moms, and dads, and grandparents who have said: ‘Enough is enough.”
Ultimately, the legislation failed to receive the needed votes to win release from the committee, essentially killing the bill in the current 151st General Assembly. In comments posted on social media following the vote, the bill’s sponsors promised they would return with “stronger legislation next year.”
Groups backing the proposal include the League of Women Voters of New Castle County, the Delaware Sierra Club, the Delaware Working Families Party, and the Delaware Nature Society.