Vinny DeMarco Rides Again
By Josh Kurtz
When Vincent DeMarco, the uber-activist who has helped expand gun control and health care access in Maryland during his storied three-decade career, bicycled from Ocean City to Deep Creek Lake with his son in the summer of 2016 to promote clean energy, he said he was doing so as a private citizen, peddling the 400 miles on his own time.
That’s about to change.
DeMarco, who recently founded a nonprofit called the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, and a host of partners will announce next week that they plan to make expansion of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) a major priority for the upcoming General Assembly session and the 2018 state elections. They will illuminate their strategy during a news conference Wednesday morning at the Episcopal Diocesan Center in Baltimore city.
The RPS requires utilities to buy a certain amount of their power from clean energy sources. The current standard in Maryland would have utilities get a quarter of their power from renewable energy by the year 2020. The advocates allied with DeMarco are aiming to expand that standard to 50 percent by 2030.
“There is no time to waste, so our organization will put all we have into making renewable energy and clean energy jobs one of the top issues in the 2018 state elections,” DeMarco said.
DeMarco and his allies will employ the same playbook for the clean energy push that he’s used throughout his career: Build a coalition of community, faith and labor (and in this case, environmental) leaders. Use the media to publicize the crusade. Lean on lawmakers during a legislative session with the knowledge that the initiative might not pass right away. Use the campaign season to pressure incumbents and challengers to pledge to support the cause. Reap the benefits in a future legislative session.
DeMarco’s tactics are so time-honored in Maryland — and at the federal level — that they became the subject of a 2009 book called, “The DeMarco Factor: Transforming Public Will into Political Power.”
In Maryland, DeMarco is best known for campaigns that brought strong gun control laws to the state, raised the tobacco tax to health care spending, and expanded children’s health insurance coverage, among other initiatives.
More than 300 groups have endorsed the higher renewable portfolio standard, including the Ecumenical Leaders Group of Maryland and many other religious groups, along with the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Service Employees Union Local 1199 and a host of environmental organizations.
“As the federal government moves backwards on climate, Maryland is moving forward,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “We are seeing the human impacts from climate change from Texas to Montana to the Eastern Shore. States are stepping up and leading the way on renewable energy to protect our communities and the environment.”
Advocates for a stronger RPS are emphasizing the job-creation potential of an expanded renewable energy sector. The campaign is calling for a significant investment in training for clean energy jobs and assistance for minority and women owned businesses working in the field.
“We know that all Marylanders, particularly disadvantaged communities, will benefit from protecting our climate and ensuring good quality jobs,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP.
Whether key state lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) go for the RPS proposal is very much an open question. Late last month, Del. Shane Robinson (D) and other progressive lawmakers and groups said they would push legislation for 100 percent renewable fuel use by 2035 – but the campaign by DeMarco and his allies suggest they don’t believe that is a realistic goal in the short term.
House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis (D) and Senate Finance Chairman Mac Middleton (D) will have a major say over the fate of any RPS legislation. While they were supportive of the 25 percent renewable standard, getting them to embrace the higher goal may be a challenge, at least initially.
Hogan’s veto of the 25 percent RPS legislation inspired DeMarco’s statewide bike ride last summer; the Democratic-led legislature overrode the veto this year.
But DeMarco said Hogan may be persuadable on the 50 percent renewable goal.
“He’s done [a] fracking [ban], so you never know,” he said.