Wes Moore on the Climate Crisis: ‘Make Generational Change in Order to Bend the Curve’

Author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore campaigns for governor at the 2021 J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

Ninth in a series.

On the day Democratic gubernatorial contender Wes Moore sat down with Maryland Matters to discuss climate change, in late October, the state coincidentally was being lashed by powerful storms. Several Maryland communities were experiencing near-record flooding, and schools in at least five jurisdictions were closed due to the extreme weather.

The latter fact especially exasperated Moore — and made the conversation about the ravages of a warming planet anything but theoretical. He said it seems inevitable that more classroom time will be lost to extreme weather.

“These are real issues. These are serious issues,” Moore said. “And when you consider that we’ve had children who have already had such a complicated period over these previous 16 months, and educational problems. We’ve had kids who have not had a stable academic situation, and we all understand the complications of that, with chronic absences and interruptions of instruction. Now we’re talking about the role the environment has been playing in this as well.”

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Since announcing his candidacy for governor earlier this year, Moore has been thinking and talking a lot about education and sketching out what the future for the state’s youngest and most vulnerable residents ought to look like. A best-selling author, military veteran, and former nonprofit CEO, Moore, at age 43, is the second youngest of the nine Democratic gubernatorial candidates, and he — more than most of the other contenders — talks regularly about the need “to make generational change in order to bend the curve we’re on.”

That view for Moore applies to the fight against climate change and myriad other challenges.

A disruption of the school year is one of many reasons why the candidate feels compelled to aggressively address climate change. But it fits with his overall message that — more than other candidates — he is an avatar for change.

Already, in Moore’s view, the impacts of a warming planet are disproportionately felt in the state’s poorest communities, whether it’s the documented high asthma rate in West Baltimore, heat deserts in other parts of the city, or washed-out communities on the Lower Eastern Shore that are especially vulnerable to sea-level rise.

“We have to, as a state, address the damage that’s already been done,” he said.

But by the same token, Moore says, an expanding green energy economy could be one of the conduits for lifting people, especially young people with limited opportunities now, out of poverty. As part of his economic equity agenda, Moore has proposed a universal service year option for students, modeled after the Civic Works job training and education program in Baltimore, where in one project young people are working to remediate brownfield sites.

“We can use that to address issues within the environment as well as prepare people for college or career” by establishing a climate corps, among other programs, he said. “This is going to inspire a generation of Marylanders actually to get in the trenches on the most pressing issues facing the state. I’m excited about how we can put them to work, installing solar panels on roofs, planting trees, taking the state’s goals and actually having an army that can accomplish them.”

Using ‘an equity lens’ on cap-and-trade

Moore said he isn’t sure whether his administration would need a single individual coordinating climate policy across agencies. But he does think leaders throughout state governments need to do a better job of collaborating and communicating on climate policy.

“This is not a siloed thing and it can’t be,” he said.

Moore said he doesn’t see enough cooperation now between key state departments like the Maryland Energy Administration, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Maryland Clean Energy Center, and the Maryland Department of the Environment. The key to keeping the disparate players on task, he said, is a governor who can lay out an ambitious set of overarching priorities that the agencies strive to meet.

“We have all of these pieces. What we need first of all is a governor that takes this seriously, who is going to use the 2nd floor [of the State House] in Annapolis as a means and a mechanism to set proper targets that we should have…My standards and my benchmarks [on climate goals] are going to be high.”

Moore lauded the renewable energy goals laid out in the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019, which called for a 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an all-electric state fleet by then. “But we can do better,” he said. “We can push past that and have more ambitious goals. We can aspire for more than just carbon neutrality. This is a unique opportunity for us to ask, how do we become a net producer of alternative energy?”

Moore said he’d aim to establish a “cap-and-invest” program in the state, using Washington State and California as models, which could tax polluters and provide revenue for clean energy infrastructure and relief for communities of color that have suffered the most environmental degradation.

“If we’re not using an equity lens when we discuss implementing these cap-and-trade programs, we’re going to miss a larger point,” he said.

Moore is also enamored of the climate resiliency funds that local governments in Maryland are starting to establish, and believes they provide a framework for using bonding authorities that the state can use to also pay for climate infrastructure projects.

“The issue of resiliency of infrastructure is a very big deal,” Moore said. “There is a framework for the state to be able to take on that type of leadership.”

A direct line to Mayor Pete

Moore said he has thought a lot about how to move people from where they live to where they work — and creating economic opportunity in the process.

Like most of the Democratic candidates, Moore expressed outrage over Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s decision to cancel the Red Line, the proposed East-West transit line in Baltimore, which the governor dubbed a “wasteful boondoggle.” Moore said Hogan was entitled to his reservations, but felt the governor’s reluctance to work with community leaders to discuss possible alternatives was a form of “negligence,” an insult to inner city residents and devalued the importance of their priorities — not to mention their need for better public transit.

“The people who were most clearly affected by the decision [to cancel the project] were clearly seen as an inconvenience and not a priority,” Moore said.

And like many Democratic candidates, Moore said expanding mass transit in the state is good for the climate, the workforce, and economic development. He added that he’d favor establishing regional transit authorities around the state to boost transit usage — not just in Baltimore, where it’s needed most.

Moore is dismissive of Hogan’s plans to widen portions the capital Beltway and Interstate 270 using high-cost toll lanes.

“The idea of having a luxury toll lane the overwhelming majority of Marylanders will not be able to benefit from — I’m not OK with that,” he said.

Moore was especially critical of the vote on the Board of Public Works by Hogan and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, another Democratic candidate for governor, to green-light the project despite Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp’s request for further environmental reviews.

“I thought the governor and the comptroller were not listening to a very simple and correct ask by the treasurer, saying, ‘I need more information,'” Moore said.

Moore said he’d support a transit line running alongside to I-270 and would also support the proposed transit line from Prince George’s County to Charles County. He argued that all road and transit proposals must be considered together, as parts of a bigger puzzle — that the state cannot simply consider them piecemeal.

Moore suggested that there are different ways to pay for new transportation projects, including possible revenue from sports betting, legalized recreational cannabis, and the new infusion of federal funds through the recently passed infrastructure law.

Just as significant, Moore points out that when he was a Rhodes Scholar, one of his classmates was Pete Buttigieg, who is now U.S. Transportation secretary.

“I’m excited to be able to sit down with my old buddy of 20 years and tell him about Maryland’s transportation needs,” he said.

Moore’s personal climate hero is…

Asked to name his personal climate hero — a question Maryland Matters posed to all the Democratic contenders for governor — Moore named Baltimore City Councilmember Mark Conway (D), whose professional career has included stops at the Chesapeake Conservancy, the Baltimore Tree Trust, Inc., and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Conway is one of seven Baltimore city council members who have endorsed Moore’s campaign so far.

Moore said that when he and Conway first met, they naturally discussed education, housing, redlining, poverty, and other issues that Black political leaders in Baltimore routinely discuss. But he said he was especially taken with Conway’s fluency on environmental issues and learned a lot from their conversations.

“One of the first things we talked about was the environment and how the environment impacts his constituents more than any other jurisdiction in the state,” Moore said, recalling that Conway educated him about sewage treatment plants and efforts to clean up Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, among other things.

“He helped to underscore that this is all of our problem but that there’s an opportunity to do something about it,” Moore said. “So it’s crucial that we get it right.”

This is the last of a nine-part series interviewing the Democratic candidates for governor on climate change. Click here for other stories in the Climate Voter’s Guide. Maryland Matters has reached out to the Republican candidates for governor requesting interviews about climate change. More stories will be added to the series throughout the election season. 

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.