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MD General Assembly Debates Offshore Drilling, Clean Energy and Trees

Rachel Baye

The Maryland General Assembly session opens today in Annapolis.  Last year, state lawmakers – in the face of a tidal wave of anti-environmental actions by the Trump Administration – stood against the tide and passed one of the strongest state environmental laws in America: a ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Although “states' rights” is not usually a war cry of Democratic lawmakers, the times are changing. A growing number of blue states, including Maryland and California, are taking action on problems like climate change that are being ignored or denied at the federal level.

State Delegate Kumar Barve is chairman of the house Environmental Matters Committee. He said his top priority this spring will be rallying state lawmakers to counter the Trump Administration’s recent decision to allow offshore oil drilling along the Maryland coast and at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Do you remember the Exxon Valdez?  Do you remember the BP offshore spill?” asked Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County.   “I mean, these are issues that – when a mistake happens – it’s a catastrophic mistake and an expensive mistake. And I don’t want to undo decades of work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay because one guy didn’t throw a switch in the right direction.”

This might turn out to be a bipartisan effort against offshore drilling. Republican Governor Larry Hogan has also come out against Trump’s proposal – as have the Republican governors of New Jersey, South Carolina and Florida.


Another proposal being debated this winter in Maryland is a bill that would require power companies to buy 50 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources like solar and wind by 2030. That would be up from the current requirement of 25 percent by 2020.

“This bill would have an impact of $1.97 per month for the average ratepayer,” said Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Just for $1.97, we could get half of our electricity from renewable sources while creating thousands of jobs in the wind and solar markets.  So I think that’s a good bargain.”

Eastern Shore lawmakers are expected to introduce bills that would force developers of proposed wind farms east of Ocean City to move the windmills farther out to sea, so that condo owners can’t see the blinking red lights of turbines at night.

“We think these are bad bills,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.  “They would really devastate the offshore wind industry in Maryland.  If we are going to be open for business, we need to be open to this business that would bring renewable, clean energy to Maryland.  So we would fight any bills that would harm those projects.”

A coalition of 300 churches, synagogues and other religious groups called the Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake is lobbying for a bill that would require developers who cut down forests of mature trees to replace those trees on a one-to-one basis.

“When we plant trees, we plant hope,” said Bonnie Sorak, outreach coordinator for the partnership.   “So it’s easy to get people of faith behind this sort of effort. We hope to have them do letter-writing campaigns, call-in campaigns, go testify in Annapolis, and go to rallies – we’ll have rallies, things like that.”

If last year’s General Assembly session is any guide, some of these green measures may well pass in Annapolis this year, despite the storm clouds over Washington.

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.