Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said Wednesday he will allow a much-debated bill mandating that Maryland’s electric utilities get half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 to become law without his signature.
But he expressed serious reservations about the Clean Energy Jobs Act, and cast his decision to let the bill to take effect as a good-faith effort to jump-start a conversation about getting the state to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2040.
Hogan said he would introduce his own legislative package next year to put Maryland on a path to 100 percent clean electricity.
With Hogan’s decision, Maryland will become the first state with a Republican governor to commit to a 50 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard — and the 10th overall.
In a way, it was vintage Hogan: He criticized a Democratic piece of legislation and some of the tactics used to pass it, but essentially endorsed its goals and moved to define the debate on his own terms.
Hogan’s verdict on the legislation was delivered hours after his office announced that he was canceling a State House bill signing ceremony scheduled for Thursday, even though the fate of almost 300 bills passed during the General Assembly session hang in the balance.
A spokeswoman for Hogan, Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, said the governor did not plan to sign any more bills and has until Saturday to decide whether to veto additional legislation or let measures become law without his signature. She added that about a third of the pending bills are related to alcohol policy.
Most environmental groups professed excitement at the governor’s decision and his stated desire to propose a “better and bolder” clean energy bill next year. They said Hogan – who vetoed a 25 percent renewable energy bill in 2016, which the legislature subsequently overrode – made a more aggressive commitment to clean energy than they expected.
“This is the strongest bill ever passed in Maryland to fight global warming and now stands as a national example,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the CCAN Action Fund.
In a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) Wednesday, Hogan called the Clean Energy Jobs Act “well-intentioned” but flawed.
“Despite its name, this bill is not clean enough, nor smart enough, nor does it create the intended jobs within Maryland,” he wrote. “Instead, it was a rushed and deeply flawed proposal in need of significant improvements. However, I am allowing Senate Bill 516 to become law without my signature in the hopes of opening the door for a productive conversation to truly advance clean and renewable energy in our state.”
Hogan criticized the legislature for passing a bill before the scheduled Dec. 1, 2019 completion of a state study on the impact of the Renewable Portfolio Standard in Maryland and suggested the rush to pass it was “politically motivated.”
The governor said he would task state Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles and Maryland Energy Administration Director Mary Beth Tung with developing an “innovative, home-grown, forward-thinking alternative” to the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which he pledged to submit to the General Assembly on the first day of the 2020 session.
Hogan said he would dub his legislation the Clean and Renewable Energy Standard (CARES). He described it as “an all-of-the-above strategy” that would seek to reduce carbon emissions by:
–Increasing the use of zero- and low-carbon energy sources;
–Recognizing nuclear energy as a clean energy source;
–Advancing carbon capture and storage technology;
–Utilizing the role of energy-efficient combined heat and power.
Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), the chief sponsor of the legislation, said he was looking forward “to engaging with the governor to do even more to fight climate change and create green jobs next year.” But he noted that Hogan and members of his administration played no role in the legislative debate over the bill and took no public position on it during the session.
“I appreciate the fact that Governor Hogan will allow this critical economic and environmental bill to become law in Maryland,” Feldman said. “The legislation was backed by a large majority of the General Assembly and every major environmental group in the state. At the same time, neither the governor nor anyone in his administration ever took a position or weighed in with their views on the bill in any way during the legislative process, so his post-session suggestions now on how the bill could have been better are perplexing.”
Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) said he was disappointed that Hogan would essentially sign off on what he himself identified as “a rushed and deeply flawed bill,” and suggested a veto would have been a better way to improve it.
“There’s no hammer or carrot now — the advocates got 100 percent of their wish list,” Hershey said. “They never expected the bill would actually pass this year so they asked for everything they could possibly imagine. Now they have it, why give up anything and start a negotiation?”
The bill passed out of the state Senate in March but then languished in the House after an awkward mid-session attempt by certain members of the House Economic Matters Committee to kill it. The measure began moving again in the session’s final days but did not gain final passage until the final hours.
Coincidentally, the botched night-time attempt to kill the bill in committee took place at the same time the Maryland League of Conservation Voters was hosting a reception for legislators in Annapolis. And by another coincidence, the Hogan announcement Wednesday coincided with Maryland LCV’s farewell happy hour in Hyattsville for its executive director, Karla Raettig, who is leaving after heading the organization for eight years.
The happy hour became a simultaneous celebration for the clean energy bill becoming law.
“A truly remarkable accomplishment,” Maryland LCV’s acting director, Chuck Porcari, told the assembled crowd.