Democrats are attempting to pressure Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on the issue of climate change — but Hogan is trying hard not to let them outflank him.
State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) introduced a bill this week that would require the legislature to approve any decision by the governor to withdraw the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI, as it’s commonly known, is a nine-state compact that oversees a cap-and-trade program to reduce power plant emissions.
Even though Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles is the current RGGI chairman, and Hogan and Grumbles have worked hard to burnish the administration’s environmental record, Pinsky said he introduced the bill “as insurance.”
But it’s hard not to see a political element to the proposal, as Democrats try to slow Hogan’s political momentum and blunt his power, especially if they can tie him to unpopular national Republicans like President Trump. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) – a Trump ally and Hogan mentor – unilaterally withdrew the Garden State from RGGI in 2011. His successor, Democrat Phil Murphy, who was inaugurated last week, has vowed to get New Jersey back into the alliance of Northeastern states.
Pinsky, the vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in Annapolis, insisted that his legislation was not intended to score political points.
“The idea that the executive could take us out [of RGGI] is troubling,” he said. “I really don’t mean it as a shot across the bow.”
Hogan’s spokesman Douglass V. Mayer would not say Wednesday whether the governor would support or veto Pinsky’s bill. But he did say, “The governor has consistently voiced support and has actively championed the work of RGGI.”
Pisnky said he expected both houses of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to pass his bill. “It would seem to me the legislature would want input,” he said.
A hearing on Pinsky’s bill has been set for Feb. 1.
In a related development, the House Environment and Transportation Committee in Annapolis held a hearing Wednesday on another bill designed to pressure Hogan on climate. The legislation would require Maryland to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 16 states that formed last year and committed to certain greenhouse gas reductions after Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from an international climate accord.
But Hogan essentially forestalled the legislation earlier this month by announcing that the state would join the alliance. Nevertheless, Grumbles testified in favor of the bill on Wednesday.
Grumbles did seek an amendment to the legislation that would acknowledge Hogan’s prior commitment to the alliance and his opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. The administration’s proposed amendment would also decree that “Maryland should remain in the U.S. Climate Alliance as long as it adds value, shows true bipartisanship, and avoids Washington, D.C.’s politics-as-usual, corrosive tactics and distractions.”
In written testimony before the committee, Grumbles said, “Maryland is a leader in protecting our environment and fighting climate change. Maryland’s work to find the right balance for environmental, economy and energy progress shows that it is possible to both protect the natural world while also fostering a pro-jobs and vibrant economic opportunity environment.”