Advocates See Clean Energy Bill Passing This Year Thanks to Changes in (Political) Climate
By Josh Kurtz
When environmental groups and their allies began pushing for new regulations that would require half of Maryland’s power to come from renewable sources by 2030, they assumed it would be a two- or three-year campaign.
But now that more than half of the members of the House of Delegates and state Senate have committed to co-sponsoring the legislation in this legislative session, organizers are beginning to rethink their strategy.
“This is big news,” said Jamie DeMarco, campaign co-manager for the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative. “This is a ‘this-year’ game now.”
The legislation, which will be introduced by Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and House Majority Leader C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), would boost the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent, up from the current goal of using 25 percent renewables by 2020. It also would set incentives to boost clean energy jobs and would phase out incentives for trash incineration.
Working with a host of environmental groups, faith leaders, labor unions and community organizations, the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative is using the same playbook for the RPS push that Jamie DeMarco’s father, Vincent DeMarco, has honed throughout his career, successfully campaigning for gun safety and public health legislation.
It involves building a broad coalition of supporters; using the media to publicize the crusade; leaning on lawmakers during a legislative session with the knowledge that the initiative might not pass right away; using the campaign season to pressure incumbents and challengers to pledge to support the cause; and then reaping the benefits in a future legislative session.
More than 650 groups have already endorsed the clean energy measure. And with 24 senators and 77 delegates signed up to be co-sponsors so far, advocates now believe there is a chance of passing the legislation this year. The list of sponsors includes Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), House Environment and Transportation Chairman Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), and House Health and Government Operations Chairwoman Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard).
There are no GOP co-sponsors so far, but Jamie DeMarco said he is confident that some Republican lawmakers will support the measure. Part of what is fueling the momentum behind the bill, he said, is President Trump’s recent decision to impose 30 percent tariffs on solar panels made outside the U.S. Advocates estimate that this could cost at least 700 solar jobs in Maryland if the clean energy bill is not adopted.
The Hogan administration has not formally weighed in on the legislation.
“It’s certainly something we’re taking a look at,” Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a brief interview in Annapolis recently.
Hogan vetoed 2016 legislation creating the 25 percent renewable fuel standard – which the Democratic legislature overrode last year. But he fully embraced a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing last year, which is now law.
“Gov. Hogan is very hard to predict,” DeMarco said.
Utilities have so far been silent on the measure, though they may crank up opposition when hearings are scheduled. DeMarco said utilities are coming to the realization that renewable energy is the wave of the future.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers and environmental groups have gotten behind more aggressive legislation to require 100 percent clean energy use in Maryland by 2035. That bill, the Clean Renewable Energy Equity Act of 2018, introduced by Del. A. Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery), has more than 30 Democratic co-sponsors.
“I don’t think a lot of people know there’s an alternative out there” to the Feldman-Frick legislation, Robinson said.
Robinson said part of the impetus behind introducing such an ambitious bill was to stake out a bold position early in the legislative session, before inevitable compromises are made.
“You ask for what you want,” Robinson said. “I can’t find anybody who doesn’t want 100 percent clean energy. It’s just a matter of how and when.”