Opinion: Religious Leaders to Hogan: Keep Your Moral Promise on Climate Change

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) speaking at the Annapolis summit earlier this month. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

As Maryland faith leaders concerned about climate change, we view energy policy through an ethical lens.

We are, therefore, alarmed that our governor – Larry Hogan (R) – is breaking his promise to uphold the Paris climate agreement.

Instead, Hogan is proposing energy policies and legislation that could weaken, rather than improve, efforts to curb climate change.

So the Maryland General Assembly must be prepared — in 2020 — to force Hogan to honor his Paris commitment.

Here’s the bottom line: We’ve got to stop digging energy from beneath us and lighting it to power our economy. Oil, coal, and natural gas – dirty and violently extracted – are creating “hell” on Earth by fueling global warming.

Instead, we have to turn to energy from “heaven” — energy from the sun, wind, ocean tides, and sustainable farm crops.

And we have to do it in a hurry.

Climate scientists dropped a bombshell late last year: We must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half worldwide by 2030. Wealthy nations must do more, approaching carbon neutrality by the 2040s.

Yet Hogan is failing in his regulatory and ethical duties.

He supported a ban on hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) in 2017, and, for that, deserves great credit. But Hogan vetoed a modest increase in wind and solar power in 2016. In 2019, he refused to sign the ambitious Clean Energy Jobs Act, which mandated 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030, and it became law without his signature.

So what does Larry Hogan want?

The General Assembly mandated that Maryland produce a climate action plan, no later than December 2018, to cut emissions 40 percent by 2030. Hogan supported the mandate but ignored the deadline.

After faith and environmental leaders demanded the governor follow the law, the Maryland Department of the Environment finally released its draft climate plan in October.

That plan, 10 months late, offers little specific guidance on wind and solar energy and efficiency, embracing little beyond what the General Assembly already has done. It takes no action to shut down any of the state’s six, high-polluting power plants that burn coal.

Instead, the governor is introducing a bill called the Clean and Renewable Energy Standard or CARES Act. The name is a misnomer.

According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, the act would provide support for new and existing nuclear power. It would count imported fracked gas as positive for the climate, ignoring data showing such gas may be worse than coal when methane leakage is factored in.

The pro-gas governor has pledged to “kickstart” more combustion statewide. He wants unproven “carbon capture and sequestration” technology for existing and future gas plants.

Hogan’s plan also calls for highway expansion in Maryland to fight global warming. It proposes up to $9 billion to widen roads such as Interstate 495 and I-270 on the premise that pollution would be reduced by less idling. Virtually no one outside the Hogan administration believes this is anything but an embarrassment on climate policy.

Although Hogan proposes 530,000 electric vehicles in Maryland by 2030, he offers no concrete plan to get there beyond voluntary measures and the hope President Trump doesn’t gut national efficiency standards.

Gov. Hogan needs a new moral compass on climate change and he needs to fulfill his promises.

Maryland needs a plan that quickly shuts down coal plants and, eventually, all gas plants, and that helps move workers in the fossil fuel industry toward permanent, good-paying careers in clean energy production.

We need a just and science-based plan to quickly develop a reliable and resilient  solar- and wind- based electricity system that moves people out of fossil fuel cars and into electric cars, buses and trains, and that protects communities and ensures that affordable clean-energy flows fully to low- and moderate-income Marylanders.

In short, we need to keep the energy from hell in the ground while moving toward a world which – although maybe not quite heaven – is cleaner, safer, and free from the threat of catastrophic climate change. It’s our moral duty to do this.

— REV. DELL HINTON and RABBI DAVID SHNEYER

The writers are, respectively, pastor of Gwynn Oak and Arlington Lewin United Methodist Churches in Baltimore, and head of Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Community Center of Greater Washington.