Republican-led Maryland commits to sweeping clean energy standards

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Maryland is on track to enact ambitious clean energy targets despite objections from the state’s Republican governor, who has argued for different standards and advocated for a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2040.

The new legislation puts Maryland in the company of a growing number of cities and states pushing forward with clean energy efforts at a time when the federal government has stalled on climate action. Maryland is also the first Republican-led state to enact such targets, potentially paving the way for others to follow.

Last month, Maryland passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which requires that the state get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Advocates say it will create 20,000 solar jobs in the state along with thousands of offshore wind jobs. It is also projected to reduce carbon pollution dramatically, the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road. The state is also required to examine pathways for achieving 100% clean electricity by 2040, albeit without an established plan for how to do so.

But the legislation stalled this month when Gov. Larry Hogan (R) voiced objections and declined to sign it, even as he said he endorsed its spirit. In Maryland, however, if the governor does not sign or veto a bill within a month, it becomes law. Proponents of the bill praised Hogan this week for opting not to veto the legislation, which is set to go into effect Friday.

“I appreciate the fact that Governor Hogan will allow this critical economic and environmental bill to become law in Maryland,” said state Senator Brian Feldman (D) in a statement shared with ThinkProgress.

While Feldman expressed disappointment in Hogan’s lack of support for the bill overall, he lauded the legislation as a critical step for the state. “The bottom line is that the people of Maryland want a pathway to green jobs and clean energy today,” he said.

Many local environmental and conservation groups also lent their support to the bill. More than 640 organizations — including labor, faith, business, and climate groups — backed the legislation, arguing that it would serve as a job creator in addition to benefiting the environment.

“This is the strongest bill ever passed in Maryland to fight global warming and now stands as a national example,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the CCAN Action Fund, in a statement. “We’re glad that Governor Hogan chose not to deny this progress today and belatedly will let it become law.”

Hogan has maintained that he has “serious concerns” with the legislation, namely over cost and skepticism about job creation potential. He has also argued that the bill is “not clean enough,” while reiterating his own commitment to addressing climate change.

The governor, a popular Republican in a solidly Democratic state, has nonetheless said he will support legislation that would commit Maryland to 100% clean energy within the next 20 years. Hogan has said he will submit his own legislation for that timeframe during the 2020 legislative session. He has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration on issues including the environment, while arguing that states can lead the way on climate action.

But Hogan has indicated that he supports nuclear power and hydropower as clean energy sources, both of which are controversial due to safety and environmental concerns. In 2016, Hogan also notably vetoed a bill requiring Maryland to get a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, although Democrats overrode that veto. The governor argued the legislation would hurt ratepayers.

Hogan isn’t alone in criticizing the new legislation. Some environmental groups have also expressed concern because it contains incentives for trash incinerators and for paper mills.

Waste used in incinerators would otherwise go to landfills that contribute far more to global warming; paper mills meanwhile are powered by black liquor, which would otherwise be considered a waste product. But climate advocates have noted that both are sources of pollution and greenhouse gases, as the Baltimore Sun reported last month when the legislation first passed. Some groups, including the Clean Air Baltimore Coalition, had pushed for the bill to be amended, striking the incinerators and black liquor components. But with no veto from Hogan, the legislation now stands as is.

With the new law, Maryland joins a growing group of states pushing for more aggressive renewable energy targets, which many officials have cast as a challenge to the federal government. President Donald Trump and his administration have repeatedly rejected the science of climate change, in addition to overseeing the mass rollback of environmental protections and a planned U.S. exit from the Paris climate agreement. Federal climate action efforts, like the Green New Deal resolution, are meanwhile stalled in Congress without a chance of support from the Republican-controlled Senate or the White House.

Cities and states have nonetheless sought to take the lead on enacting legislation to address the climate crisis. Nine other states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico currently have targets equal to or more ambitious than Maryland’s new legislation. A number of areas have marketed their efforts as in keeping with the spirit of the Green New Deal, including New York.

Mayors of several cities have meanwhile voiced support for the resolution’s end goals of swift mobilization to reach net-zero emissions while creating jobs and upholding social justice principles. Santa Fe, New Mexico, is among the cities where officials have pledged to enact local Green New Deal-style climate action. And Austin, Texas, voted earlier this month to support the federal resolution and to craft its own climate plan in keeping with those targets.

Democratic presidential contenders have also largely supported the Green New Deal and embraced climate action. Only two candidates have issued climate plans matching the scale of the resolution, however — former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who is calling for net-zero emissions by 2050, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) who has set 2045 as the latest possible date.




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