Hogan’s 2017 Environmental Agenda Is Pretty ‘Light Green’

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Gov. Larry Hogan delivering his State of the State address.

Last week, Governor Hogan proposed “$65 million in new, innovative and targeted investments in environmental projects.”  Hogan may have tried to get out in front with his “green messaging” because 2017 is set up to be a battle between an eco-friendly General Assembly and a pro-fracking, red-state-leaning governor.

In truth, two-thirds of the $65 million that Hogan announced was already on the books. Maryland had negotiated with Exelon during the merger deal that $44 million would be deposited into the Strategic Energy Investment Fund. The $44 million was earmarked for renewable energy projects. Hogan’s Clean Cars 2017 Electric Vehicle project and the Bay pollution trading program are current programs.

The good news is that Hogan proposes funding these programs. Money is money, and Hogan offered eco-ideas. But are they new and innovative ideas? Mostly, no.

Hogan’s proposed environmental projects:

Project #1: $41 million: Renewable energy projects

Part of the previously negotiated Exelon Corporation merger, the $44 million mentioned by Hogan was already earmarked for deposit into the Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund (SEIF) for renewable energy projects. Hogan mentioned “Tier 1” renewable projects which includes solar and wind, but also can include waste-to-energy trash and manure incinerators.

Last year, this amazing SEIF $85 million fund financed mostly energy-efficiency initiatives, low-income bill payments and a smidgen of electric vehicle rebates and support.

SEIF is funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative pollution trading program. In 2015, the Cove Point liquid natural gas export project deposited in $8 million. In 2016, $44 million will be deposited from the Exelon merger checkbook.

Maryland’s Strategic Energy Investment Fund managed by the Maryland Energy Administration does great work. There’s clearly more room for investment in renewable energy projects.

Project #2: $3 million: EARN Maryland solar job training

Again, funded through the Exelon merger deal. Funding EARN Maryland is a positive effort for sure. The state will join two Maryland nonprofits, Civic Works and GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, that have been running hugely successful solar training programs.

The solar industry is growing at 20 percent year-over-year. Eighty-five percent of Maryland’s solar installers report it’s tough to fill vacancies. Maybe this program should get even more funding?

There is a little bugaboo with this jobs initiative. Hogan is most likely signaling to environmental groups that he liked the jobs part of the Clean Energy Jobs Act that he vetoed last year, but not the increasing the Renewable Portfolio Standard part. The bill was two-fold: Invest seriously in green jobs and require utilities to buy 25 percent renewable in their energy mix, up from 20 percent.

Fairly alarming is Hogan’s eco-messaging that buying solar and wind is a “sunshine and wind tax.” Taking his tried-and-true tactic of labeling green clean-up projects as a tax (stormwater fee), it seems he’s attempting to put a “negative halo” around emission-free solar and wind. Both are almost on par with fossil fuel pricing, neither causes premature deaths and neither contributes to climate change.

Maryland’s average temps just keep climbing because we pump too many Greenhouse gases into the air. Source: N.O.A.A.

Project #3: $7.5 million: University of Maryland Green Energy Institute 

In the hopes of attracting more sustainably-minded businesses to Maryland, the new “Green Energy Institute,” a partnership between the University of Maryland Energy Research Center and the Maryland Clean Energy Center, would develop those strategies and tactics. Pretty cool.

Project #4: $10 million borrow from “flush fee”: Clean Water Commerce Act 

A pollution trading program that started in 2008 hasn’t really gotten off the ground. Hogan signals he’d like Maryland to move $10 million from the sewage treatment fees — a highly successful program that upgraded Maryland’s sewage plants — to kickstart the pollution trading program.

The trading concept is that if farmers can beat their pollution goals, they’ll earn credits for the difference. Those credits can then be bought by municipalities that aren’t meeting their stormwater pollution goals. So farmers get paid to increase their cleanup efforts by municipalities that aren’t meeting their goals. The devil is always in the details, and their aren’t many details at this point.

Project #5: Electric Vehicle rebates and infrastructure: $1.2 million

Maryland has been a tad stingy with electric vehicle charging rebates. Hogan’s suggested $1.2 million should be help more than the 211 personal charging rebates and 26 public stations that were rebated in 2015.

It should be interesting in 2017 to watch how well a Republican governor — who supports fracking in western Maryland, cancels any new pollution controls on coal power plants and weakens septic tank laws — will work with an environmentally focused legislature.

One thing is for sure: Maryland’s average temperatures will steadily climb (see graph above). Action is far more effective at abating climate change than words. 

Laurel Peltier
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