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Examining MD Gov. Hogan’s Record on the Environment

Chesapeake Bay Magazine

With Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan running for re-election in a majority Democratic state on Nov. 6th, he’s emphasizing his record on the environment as an area to claim a moderate legacy, and to differentiate himself from Republican President Trump, who is highly unpopular in the state.

Hogan’s environmental secretary, Ben Grumbles, highlights Governor Hogan’s efforts to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, including the tons of sediment pouring over the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River.

“I would say, number one, would be the strong, bipartisan support for Chesapeake Bay restoration,” said Grumbles, asked to list the governor's top environmental accomplishments.  “And I have to fold into that not only the governor’s record funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration, from Program Open Space, to the 2010 Trust Fund, to full and robust support for the Bay Restoration Fund and the other funding programs. But it’s also about being a strong supporter of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.”

The Bay TMDL – or Total Maximum Daily Load – is the set of EPA pollution limits that the Obama Administration imposed for Chesapeake region states in 2010. And this is where Hogan’s claims of success become as murky as the bay itself has been this summer, with the record-breaking rainfall and large amounts of runoff pollution.

Many of the overall improvements that the Bay has enjoyed under Hogan have been driven by actions that the former Democratic president – and previous governors -- took years before Hogan took office.

Hogan himself won election four years ago in part by running against a bay cleanup program: the so-called “rain tax.” He then weakened regulations for suburban septic tanks and farm fertilizer pollution.  On the positive side, Governor Hogan did impose limits on the over-application of poultry manure on Eastern Shore farm fields. That was an action that former Governor O’Malley had delayed for years. And Hogan opposes offshore drilling – a Trump priority.

Perhaps Governor Hogan’s biggest environmental accomplishment was signing a bill last year that made Maryland one of the first states to outlaw hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Hogan initially supported fracking, but then flipped positions after the Democratic-led House voted in favor of the fracking ban legislation. The bill’s fate in the Senate was not clear – with a few key Democrats blocking it – until Hogan held a press conference on March 17, 2017, announcing his support for the ban.  Then the full Senate approved the legislation.

Karla Raettig is executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

“He will do things for the environment that we applaud,” said Raettig of Governor Hogan. “But he’s really not showing the kind of leadership we need in any of the areas.  And really doesn’t do the environmental work that we need without a lot of prodding, and he won’t take bold leadership. So ‘needs improvement’ is still the mark that I would give him.”

On mass transportation, Governor Hogan killed a proposed east-west rail project in Baltimore City called the “red line” – and instead, dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars for suburban highway projects that encourage sprawl and climate change pollution.

Hogan signed a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent by 2030.  But when it came to implementing that goal, he vetoed a 2016 bill that would have required power companies to buy more clean energy, citing cost concerns. Democratic lawmakers overrode his veto in January 2017.

Mike Tidwell is the director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund.

“I think the governor, as a whole, over the last four years, deserves no better than a C minus grade when it comes to the environment,” said Tidwell.  “This is especially true on the most important issue, in my view, which is climate change and clean energy, where he deserves no better than a C minus.”

Next week, we will examine the environmental record and proposals of Hogan’s opponent: Democrat Ben Jealous.

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.