Maryland's Environmental and Energy Policy Moving Backward under the Hogan Administration

by Jeremy Baker

September 29, 2016

Larry Hogan promised to be the "best environmental governor that's ever served" in Maryland. But three recent policy developments call that claim into question. 

Earlier this year, the Hogan administration vetoed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would have raised Maryland's renewable energy portfolio standard – the share of electricity that energy providers must derive from renewable sources – from 20 percent by 2022 to 25 percent by 2020. A stronger commitment to renewable energy could have had a tremendous effect on the state economy, attracting clean energy providers and other environmentally conscious companies. Moreover, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, the act would have raised monthly utility bills by only $1 to $2. 

With the veto, the governor declined to increase the renewable energy goal and shorten the time period for achieving it, despite being in a position to do so. Instead, he threw his support behind more traditional means of energy generation, including coal. Coal-fired power plants currently generate a significant portion of the state's electricity and emit hazardous pollution that causes significant health problems for residents, including asthma attacks and cardiovascular complications. 

On a second related policy front, the Hogan administration announced that it would consider dropping out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the cap-and-trade agreement among nine northeastern states to reduce harmful greenhouse gases, in response to a push to strengthen the initiative. RGGI states review the agreement every three years, and Massachusetts and several environmental organizations are pushing to double the percentage annual decrease in emissions that RGGI mandates, from 2.5 to 5 percent. The Hogan administration claims climbing utility rates are behind the state's threat to withdraw, though that seems like little more than an excuse to abandon a program the governor has criticized in the past, despite its successes

RGGI states have surpassed expectations for reducing greenhouse gases and shrinking their carbon footprints, so much so that the idea of doubling the reduction commitment is not only feasible, but entirely reasonable. Similar to the veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, Hogan's threat to pull out of RGGI shows his lack of commitment to renewable energy and a sustainable future. 

His move would also have a direct impact on Maryland families and communities. As part of the agreement, RGGI states participate in a regional auction to sell carbon dioxide allowances. So far, RGGI auctions have raised more than $533 million for the state of Maryland and over $2.5 billion in proceeds for the region. These funds are invested in state programs, including energy efficiency improvements, clean and renewable energy programs, direct bill assistance to low-income families, and research on innovative greenhouse gas abatement techniques. Hogan is attempting to use energy costs as a justification for dropping out of a program that raises money specifically to make the state's energy sources more efficient and affordable. 

The Hogan administration's third energy-related development involves natural gas drilling in the state. Maryland's three-year moratorium on fracking, an oil and gas drilling method fraught with environmental and public health risks, is set to expire in October 2017. The decision on whether to allow fracking, possibly more than any other, will affect the future direction of the state's energy policy and could have significant impacts on water quality and residents' health. 

While at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles oversaw a study indicating that fracking had no known impact on drinking water, and Hogan likely appointed Grumbles to lead the state environmental agency in part because of his perceived willingness to allow fracking in what is seen as a "responsible" way. Still, Grumbles himself has expressed reservations about the method's exemption from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.   

Maryland imposed its fracking moratorium to further develop research and understanding of the method, as well as its risks and benefits. The complete environmental and health effects of fracking are still unknown because of some exemptions from federal regulation, the trade secrets the industry enjoys for many of the chemical mixtures it injects into the ground as part of the drilling process, and the relatively recent nature of most of the studies of its impacts. Still, scientists have documented hazards inherent in the drilling method, which should raise red flags and signal the need to proceed with utmost caution. 

Despite all this, the Hogan administration is poised to embrace fracking in Maryland. Just this week, the Maryland Department of the Environment released its proposed fracking regulations, the next step in allowing the drilling method to occur in the state. While the agency claims the rules are the strongest in the nation, environmental advocates note that they're weaker than those proposed by the O'Malley administration and are urging Maryland to permanently ban the practice. 

A common thread runs through all three of these policy moves. The Hogan administration inherited environmental policies addressing important issues, and it has had the opportunity to advance the goals behind those policies. Doing so would have further prioritized environmental protection; expanded clean, renewable energy; and improved the health of Marylanders statewide. But it appears the governor may be letting important opportunities slip away in favor of more corporate-friendly policies. 

If Hogan is going to be the "best environmental governor that's ever served," he needs to start embracing polices that protect clean air and water, as well as renewable sources of energy.

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Jeremy Baker is a Legal Intern at the Center for Progressive Reform. Prior to joining CPR in August 2016, he spent time working on both policy and litigation with the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Mr. Baker earned a B.S. in law and American civilization and minor in political science from Towson University in 2011, and expects to graduate from the University of Maryland School of Law in December 2016. 

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