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Energy & Environment

Only in Annapolis: Could a DWI Conviction Be Good for the Environment?

The fight over clean energy legislation in the Maryland General Assembly took a bizarre twist Wednesday night when a vote in the House Economic Matters Committee to kill the bill failed – possibly owing to a lawmaker who held a grudge over a DWI conviction.

The surprise development gave supporters of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would mandate that electric utilities use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, new hope.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the legislation at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and supporters expect it to pass there and move on to the Senate floor. That could give the measure some momentum in the House.

But for weeks, the environmental groups, renewable energy companies and climate scientists advocating for the bill felt that getting the measure through the lower chamber would be a heavier lift – for a variety of reasons.

The outcome of the vote in Economic Matters, with 10 delegates supporting a motion to kill the bill, and 11 lawmakers voting against it, was unexpected — and puzzling to lobbyists following the debate, because committee chairmen rarely bring a bill up for a vote unless they’re confident the outcome will go their way.

Most people who have followed the measure believe that top-echelon House leaders feel the legislation needs another year to marinate before the General Assembly will be comfortable enough to pass a more robust Renewable Portfolio Standard – which could result in slightly higher utility bills in the short term.

Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis told Maryland Matters following the vote that the bill is now on hold. But a new vote could come as early as Thursday, because one member of the committee, Del. Ned Carey (D-Anne Arundel) was absent Wednesday night.

Even so, lawmakers and lobbyists for an array of entities monitoring the legislation said they believe Davis expected the unfavorable motion on the legislation to prevail Wednesday night.

The lawmaker who apparently surprised colleagues by voting against the unfavorable motion was Republican Del. Rick Impallaria, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties. Multiple sources speculated that Impallaria may have voted against the bill because he has a grudge against the Town of Ocean City, where he spent two days in jail after being convicted of driving while impaired in 2016. Ocean City officials have vocally opposed two wind energy projects off the coast of the beach resort that are working their way through the state and federal approval process.

Del. Rick Impallaria (R)

Impallaria was part of a group of Italian-American lawmakers co-hosting a dinner Wednesday night at St John’s College, down the block from the House office building in Annapolis, and could not be reached for comment.

Coincidentally, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters was hosting a dinner for the Economic Matters Committee on Wednesday night at Harry Browne’s, the restaurant and watering hole across the street from the State House. At least three members of the panel attended – all of whom voted against the motion to kill the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Whether Impallaria was in fact the pivotal vote in the committee is hard to say. Voting for the unfavorable motion Wednesday night – in other words, against the bill – were Dels. Christopher Adams (R-Middle Shore), Steven Arentz (R-Upper Shore), Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City), Eric Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), Benjamin Brooks (D-Baltimore County), Mark Fisher (R-Calvert), Seth Howard (R-Anne Arundel), Johnny Mautz (R-Middle Shore), Warren Miller (R-Carroll and Howard) and C.T. Wilson (D-Charles).

Besides Impallaria, voting against the favorable motion were Dels. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s), Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), Diana M. Fennell (D-Prince George’s), Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), Lily Qi (D-Montgomery), Pamela Queen (D-Montgomery), Michael Rogers (D-Anne Arundel), Kriselda Valderrama (D-Prince George’s) and Courtney Watson (D-Howard).

If the committee votes a second time, it would likely be on a favorable motion, to approve the bill – and Carey is expected to vote against it. Then Davis, who as chairman traditionally only votes to break ties, could be the deciding member.

While it looks like the fix may be in to kill the bill, advocates are amping up pressure to pass it and wondering why they are encountering any resistance when there isn’t much organized opposition. Lawmakers who are supporting the measure asked top House leaders pointed questions about their posture at a meeting of the Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, according to multiple sources.

Some lawmakers are suggesting that they should wait for the completion of a study on the history and potential of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard before acting on new clean energy legislation.

The Power Plant Research Program, which is housed within the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, released a 99-page interim report last month detailing the progress of the RPS  – which has existed since 2004 and currently requires that utilities get one-quarter of their electric supply from renewables by 2020 .

The interim study was supposed to be delivered last December but arrived two months late. The final version is due next Dec. 1.

The report, which was ordered up by legislation that originated two years ago in the Economic Matters Committee, is estimated to cost $1 million.

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Only in Annapolis: Could a DWI Conviction Be Good for the Environment?