A year ago, Maryland’s Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles pledged that the Hogan administration was committed to “bold and achievable solutions” that help the environment and fight climate change, including joining a nascent coalition of states “looking to apply the proven ‘carbon cap-and-invest’ model to transportation emissions.
“We will promote decarbonization through the widespread use of vehicles that run off of increasingly clean energy,” Grumbles wrote in a Baltimore Sun op-ed last October.
“We’ll deploy those vehicles through the Maryland Clean Cars program in conjunction with the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a collaborative effort of mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states looking to apply the proven ‘carbon cap-and-invest’ model to transportation emissions,” he added.
But that was before the COVID-19 delivered a body blow to the economy.
On Monday, Maryland joined seven other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that declined to join Transportation Climate Initiative Program — even though they had been part of the initial planning for the regional alliance.
A system to cap emissions and force energy producers and wholesalers to purchase credits for excess pollution their products generate, TCI has the potential to reduce emissions 30% over the first decade of the program, according to supporters.
It is backed by the Georgetown Climate Center, which has received robust financial support from a large number of philanthropic organizations.
Critics of TCI had launched a robust pushback against the compact, particularly as the deadline for joining it loomed. They argued that the pollution credits would result in higher gas prices, hurting consumers — particularly those who can’t work from home — at a time when many families are already struggling.
The Maryland Department of the Environment released a one-sentence statement in Grumbles’ name on Monday: “Maryland will remain engaged and at the table to work with our regional partners for lasting clean transportation and climate progress while continuing our immediate focus on responding to the COVID-19 emergency.”
The statement did not explain why the Hogan administration opted out of the regional initiative. But Maryland was not alone.
The governors of Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Virginia also declined to become charter members of the compact, even though their administrations had also been involved in the early conversations about the TCI.
The leaders of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island and the District of Columbia all opted to sign the TCI Memorandum of Understanding. Three are Democrats — and the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, is a Republican.
Transportation is the leading cause of pollution. And Maryland-based environmental groups reacted to the Hogan administration’s decision with disappointment.
“With the climate crisis accelerating, fueled by emissions from transportation, we are disappointed that Governor Hogan has not served as a leader on regional efforts to reduce emissions and formally committed to the Transportation & Climate Initiative,” said Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.
“We will continue working with the Hogan administration to ensure Maryland fully commits to this important program as soon as possible,” she added. “The state needs to get on board quickly, because all Marylanders, and especially our communities of color, deserve clean air and an equitable and clean transportation sector that increases access to social and economic opportunities and reduces the negative health effects caused by air pollution.”
In a statement, the Georgetown Climate Center took a glass-half-full approach, praising the governors who opted to join at the launch of the initiative and offering encouragement to those who did not.
“By partnering with our neighbor states with which we share tightly connected economies and transportation systems, we can make a more significant impact on climate change while creating jobs and growing the economy as a result,” said Baker, a friend of Hogan’s.
“Several other Transportation and Climate Initiative states are also committing to this effort today and we look forward to these partners moving ahead with us as we build out this first in the nation program.”
States that join the TCI commit to dedicate a minimum of 35% of their proceeds to benefit “communities under-served by the transportation system and overburdened by pollution,” according to Georgetown.