News Analysis: Maryland Maneuvering on Climate

By Josh Kurtz

Shortly after President Trump announced Thursday that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement to which more than 190 nations have committed, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) called the move “disappointing,” and promised to do better.

“Despite today’s announcement, Massachusetts is aggressively working to exceed the goals of the Paris Agreement on the state level, while growing our economy through clean energy innovation and environmental stewardship,” Baker said in a statement. “In Massachusetts and around the world, climate change is a shared reality and our ability to rise and respond to this challenge will shape future generations.”

A day later, Baker, a businessman and moderate Republican governing in a blue state who is frequently compared to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), announced that Massachusetts would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. The latter is a newly-formed group of states and cities, spearheaded by three Democratic governors, that is committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement regardless of what the federal government does.

On the day Trump announced his decree on Paris, Hogan’s press office issued two news releases – both dealing with the lawsuit to overturn Democrats’ gerrymandering of congressional districts in Maryland. Hogan himself has been silent so far on Trump’s decision to isolate the U.S. on climate and pull out of the Paris accord.

Perhaps Hogan will address the climate issue during his speech Monday before Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a group that generally aligns with the governor. Perhaps he won’t – though he is likely to outline some of his administration’s environmental achievements.

In an email to Maryland Matters late Friday, Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, offered the Hogan administration’s most detailed comments so far on Trump’s Paris decision.

“It’s not an action Governor Hogan would have taken,” he said. “The governor is a strong advocate for protecting Maryland’s environment, including cleaner air and water, and supports efforts to combat climate change.”

Apperson said the state has already committed to exceed the greenhouse gas reductions mandated by the Paris climate deal.

“Maryland will continue its efforts,” he said. “The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act signed into law by the governor in 2016 sets a goal for Maryland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. That’s significantly stricter than federal standards and those in the Paris accord. [MDE] Secretary [Ben] Grumbles chairs the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. That broad-based commission is a prime example of bipartisan collaboration and a commitment to sustainable solutions.”

As for whether Maryland would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, Apperson pointed out that the state is already in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional multi-state compact to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

“RGGI is working,” Apperson said. “It provides value to Maryland by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating revenues for energy savings and environmental investments. We are also active participants with other states on a Transportation Climate Initiative.”

State Sen. Paul Pinsky (D), a leading environmentalist in the legislature, offered Hogan a gentle nudge on climate.

“I plan to lead efforts in the General Assembly to achieve Maryland’s reduction obligations under state law and pressure the president to reverse this disastrous action,” he said in a statement. “I hope that Governor Hogan will join me in publicly opposing President Trump’s decision and upholding Maryland’s commitments to fighting climate change.”

The Maryland Democratic Party has been a little less gentle in prodding the governor to take on Trump.

“If Governor Hogan is serious about protecting the environment and fighting climate change, he’d commit Maryland to join the growing pact of states that are taking action against President Trump’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement,” said Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Lesswing. “Anything less is empty rhetoric from Hogan.”

And former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who declared last week that he is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018, put up a Facebook post on Sunday urging Hogan to join the U.S. Climate Alliance.

Partisan Democrats are anxious to tie Hogan to Trump at every turn and are frequently trying to goad Hogan into saying something controversial about the president’s policies. The Maryland Democratic Party, for example, was quick to note Baker’s condemnation in Massachusetts of the health care reform bill passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives last month – and Hogan’s relative silence.

Not every Democratic attempt to link Hogan to Trump is going to work. But on issues like climate and the environment, in a state like Maryland where so much of the state’s economic health and state image is linked to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, Hogan and his lieutenants realize that a robust policy response is necessary – even if the rhetoric isn’t heated enough to satisfy Democrats.

“Maryland has just banned fracking while approving the country’s largest offshore wind farm,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “This robust state action cannot and will not be slowed by Trump’s federal rejection of climate truth and economic sanity.”

Ana Faguy contributed to this report.

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