With his signature, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has adopted strong stances on the environment, but his actions and words have made advocates say they see a man reluctant to be a leader on the topic.
Hogan has a mixed record on the environment as he finishes his first term as governor. He signed a statewide ban on fracking — a form of natural gas drilling — and committed Maryland to an ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. But when he didn’t outright oppose a natural gas pipeline through Washington County, and called proposals to increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard a “sunshine tax,” environmentalists balked and said they would support his opponent in the November election.
“We don’t see a lot of leadership,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which backed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous in June.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, countered that the governor has been recognized as a regional and national leader in improving air and water quality.
Hogan’s campaign declined to participate in the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Maryland Sierra Club’s endorsement process, but that did not guarantee the endorsement for Jealous, either, Raettig said. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters will decline to endorse a candidate in a race if their records are a wash.
In the gubernatorial race, however, the organization saw Jealous as a possible leader on the environment where they say Hogan has been a follower.
“Ben Jealous has shown leadership on the issues throughout the campaign,” Raettig said. “He doesn’t want to simply sit back and let others drive the state forward.”
In the driver’s seat of the Hogan administration on these issues is Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, who was quick to point out the programs, initiatives and boards Hogan has supported since taking office.
Grumbles attended the National Governors Association’s Water Policy Institute, which Hogan co-chairs with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), and the Global Climate Action Summit last month in San Francisco on behalf of the governor. He participated as a panelist and moderator at the events with one of his main messages being Maryland’s belief in the need for bipartisan environmental leadership, he said.
“We have viewed the Global Climate Action Summit for some time as an important opportunity for Maryland to show what it’s doing to the world,” Grumbles said in a phone interview last week.
While in San Francisco, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced Grumbles and Hogan would begin looking at ways to phase out hydrofluorocarbons — a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere — in Maryland. Grumbles confirmed the agency would begin proposing regulations in 2019 for implementation in 2020.
As one of just three Republican governors to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, Hogan showed his willingness to pursue bipartisan solutions. Advocates were encouraged to at least see Hogan put Maryland at the table to discuss climate change and clean water, said Kathleen Rall, the political chair of the Catoctin group of the Sierra Club.
It just wasn’t enough, according to Raettig.
“Climate change is like the elephant in the room in all these conversations and debates,” Rall said.
The local chapter supports the Maryland Sierra Club’s endorsement of Jealous, who has promised to set a deadline for transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, protecting the Chesapeake Bay, returning to smart growth and making sure no community is disproportionately affected by pollution. Meanwhile, Hogan’s decision to add toll lanes rather than build a Red Line extension to Baltimore or increase MARC train service to Frederick County seems to have distanced local environmentally minded voters, Rall said.
Jealous can be criticized for a lack of detail regarding how he would execute his campaign promises related to the environment, Raettig said.
On Tuesday, Jealous responded to an email request for detail by saying, “I’ve spent my life fighting the negative public health and economic impacts of climate change. Groups like Sierra Club Maryland and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters trust my vision of making 100% clean energy our state’s moonshot mission in the decade to come.”
Grumbles, on the other hand, said Maryland is already a leader under Hogan and the most important thing residents will see are the results.
For the past two years, as co-chair of the governor’s Water Policy Institute, Hogan has looked for ways to improve sustainable water policies in a way that is bipartisan, attention-grabbing and enthusiastic, Grumbles said. The state also worked on healthy soils initiatives, expanded electric vehicle infrastructure and launched a Climate Leadership Academy.
“Our administration has taken bold, bipartisan actions and made critical investments in environmental initiatives — including a historic $4 billion for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts — that are delivering real results and enabling us to preserve our vital natural resources for generations to come,” Chasse said by email on Tuesday.
Hogan has also repeatedly stood up to the federal government over proposed cuts to Chesapeake Bay cleanup funds and sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when it left Maryland’s Clean Air Act petition against interstate transport of air pollution unanswered.
“The governor has made it very clear from day one that he supports environmental leadership that’s good for Maryland,” Grumbles said.