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With Climate Denier in White House, Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Pollution Shift to States

With the election of President Donald Trump – who has called climate change a “hoax” created by the Chinese – and Republicans in both the U.S. Senate and House, federal policy on controlling greenhouse gases is likely to be rolled backwards.

Trump’s Electoral College victory sent stock prices for coal companies, like bankrupt Peabody Energy, skyrocketing, while recently-thriving solar and wind power companies were punished by Wall Street.

But efforts to address climate change are not dead in the U.S.  Action for pollution control regulations is now shifting to the state level, with legislators in California, Maryland, Washington, Vermont, and other blue-leaning states vowing to press forward.

  California’s senate leader, Kevin De Leon, for example, said after Trump’s election: “Let me be clear, California will not retreat… we are more determined than ever before to move forwards with like-minded states and other nations.”

A similar phenomenon may be unfolding here in Maryland, where some Democratic lawmakers are pledging to override Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s May 27th veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2016.  The Democrats plan to act shortly after the next legislative session opens in January.

Senator Paul Pinsky from Prince George’s County (pictured at top) was a sponsor of the bill, which would require that utilities to buy 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, up from the current requirement of 20 percent by 2022.

 “We should absolutely override the veto,” said Pinsky.  “It was a bad judgment on the governor’s part.  We have to increase our clean energy – wind, solar, other types – to a point that we can reduce coal, oil and other things that are simply not sustainable.”

The bill legislation also directs $40 million in state funds …to help subsidize small, minority, and women-owned clean-energy businesses in Maryland.  The money comes from compensation that the Dominion power company of Virginia is paying to Maryland to make up for damage to the climate that it will cause by building a power plant at a  liquid natural gas export terminal at Cover Point in southern Maryland. 

The state house passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act by a 65 percent margin last April; and the senate by a 69 percent margin.  Those numbers would, in theory, provide Democrats more than the 60 percent of votes needed to override Hogan’s veto.  However, that assumes the votes do not shift with the changed political landscape since the November 8 election.

In his explanation of the veto, Hogan said the bill’s end goal is laudable, but that he opposes it because it  would have the effect of raising electric rates statewide by a combined $49 million to $196 million by 2020.

“This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied on every single electricity ratepayer in Maryland, and for that reason alone, I cannot allow it to become law,” Hogan said.

Here’s public testimony against the bill from John Fiastro, Hogan’s Director of the Maryland Energy Administration, during a legislative hearing in March. “Moody’s Analytics earlier in 2015 – in the fall of 2015, on behalf of the Maryland General Assembly – reported that the number two difficulty in attracting businesses to the state of Maryland was the cost of electricity,” Fiastro said.  “Well, this bill will have an impact.  It will not help lower the price of electricity but will in fact raise the price of electricity.”

Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the net cost to state residents would average out to less than a penny per day. He said that would be a small price to pay a big investment in reduced air pollution, improved public health, and the creation of jobs in solar and wind companies.

“This is exactly the policy of a 21st century state that wants to create jobs vs holding on to the dying industries of fossil fuels that have no future, according to the world’s scientists,” Tidwell said.

Will Maryland follow California and other blue states toward clean energy?  Or will it follow Trump’s efforts to resurrect coal?   How this will play out politically will become clear soon after the Maryland General Assembly session starts on January 11.

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.