Ben Jealous, a Democrat running to be Maryland’s governor, backs renewable energy legislation. Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Hours after a legislative committee torpedoed a bill to boost Maryland’s renewable energy standard to 50 percent, the state’s six leading Democratic candidates for governor yesterday pledged to support the measure if they’re elected in November.
Environmentalists and hundreds of religious, labor, business and civic organizations made a major push in Annapolis this legislative session to pass the bill, which would have increased the state’s renewable energy portfolio to 50 percent by 2030. More than half the members of the House of Delegates and half of Maryland’s state senators co-sponsored the bill.
But the House Economic Matters Subcommittee on Public Utilities effectively killed the measure Wednesday night, approving what’s known as an “unfavorable” motion on the bill. Just one lawmaker on the nine-member subcommittee voted against the unfavorable motion.
While the bill technically remains alive in the state Senate, its prospects for passage in the final 3 ½ weeks of the legislative session are all but impossible.
But advocates have been trying to take the long view on the measure. A law boosting the state’s renewable portfolio to 25 percent by 2020 only went into effect in 2017, so activists figured it might take a few years to pass the expanded RPS.
While their optimism for passage this session had spiked in recent weeks, given the high number of bill sponsors and the fact that Democrats dominate both chambers of the Legislature, the advocates have been simultaneously working to secure commitments from candidates running for state offices to support the measure in the future (Climatewire, Feb. 9).
“We are committed to making this one of the top issues of the 2018 election,” said Vincent DeMarco, board chairman of the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, a major player in the push to pass the legislation.
That’s where the Democratic gubernatorial contenders come in.
DeMarco’s group gave all the candidates for governor until noon yesterday to indicate whether they would pledge to support the renewables bill if elected. The six leading Democrats all answered in the affirmative, while the office of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not respond.
Hogan vetoed the 2016 legislation boosting the RPS to 25 percent, and the Legislature overrode his veto last year. His spokesman, Douglass Mayer, suggested that the Democratic gubernatorial candidates who are embracing the more aggressive bill “don’t share the concerns of their fellow Democrats that this policy would potentially cost thousands of jobs.”
Hogan has pledged that the state will meet the emissions reduction goals of the Paris climate accord, even though President Trump is trying to withdraw the United States from the international agreement, and Hogan signed a bill last year banning hydraulic fracturing in the state.
Four of the six top-polling Democratic candidates for governor joined together on a press call on the clean energy bill yesterday, along with representatives for the other two.
“Climate change is a public health issue, an economic issue and a moral issue that we must act courageously to combat,” said one of the Democrats, former NAACP President Ben Jealous. “When I am governor, Maryland will return to being a national leader in protecting our environment and also growing our green economy.”
On the call, each of the candidates, in addition to embracing the RPS bill, made a unique pitch for how to combat climate change, talking about his record in elected office or his plans for reducing emissions.
“I stress every time I talk about clean energy that we’re leaving jobs on the table by not pushing for a future fueled entirely by Maryland-made renewable energy,” said Alec Ross, an author, technology entrepreneur and former Obama administration official. “Our outdated utility model stifles innovation, tilts the playing field away from real competition and centralizes production in a way that hurts rural communities.”
Some of the candidates for governor also expressed support for mandating 100 percent renewable energy eventually. A bill that would require the state to hit 100 percent renewables by 2040 was withdrawn late Wednesday.
Recent polling has shown Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker leading the Democratic field, with Jealous and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz fighting for second place. With the Democratic primary 3 ½ months away, more than one-third of the electorate is undecided.
Even though Maryland is a Democratic state, Hogan remains wildly popular and leads all Democrats in head-to-head matchups — though a major national political wave could jeopardize his prospects for a second term.