The annual Maryland League of Conservation Voters fundraising dinner — also known as the Green Prom — is always a popular event on the state’s fall political calendar. This year’s dinner, held Thursday night at the Colwell Center in Baltimore, home of the University System of Maryland’s Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, felt a little more consequential than usual: Gov. Wes Moore (D) was the keynote speaker.
“I can tell you right now we’re just getting started,” Moore told the highly supportive crowd.
Moore’s desire to headline the fundraiser, and the LCV’s desire to have him there, served as a reminder that there’s a renewed push for bold environmental policies and regulatory actions in the Maryland State House these days.
Not that some environmental goals didn’t advance during the eight-year run of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. And green groups had a measure of affection for Ben Grumbles, Hogan’s witty secretary of the Environment. But the environmental agenda is more conspicuous and robust now, and Thursday night’s affair, overlooking the Inner Harbor, took on a celebratory air.
“When we get our friends of the environment elected, good things happen,” Kim Coble, Maryland LCV’s executive director, told the crowd. “I know you’ll agree when I say great things are happening.”
Moore told the crowd just about everything they wanted to hear, reiterating his goals of making Maryland the national leader in clean energy, climate action and environmental justice. He sat enthusiastically in the front row during a panel discussion from lawmakers and a wind energy business executive on the road ahead for Maryland. He stood up and hugged everyone who received an award from LCV as they made their way to the stage to pick up their proclamation. And he was especially effusive in his praise of Paul Pinsky, the former state senator and a hero to many environmentalists, who now heads the Maryland Energy Administration.
“When you think of bold and ambitious goals, we are going to hit every single one of them,” Moore said.
But even with the affinity between the new governor and environmental leaders, Moore has fallen short so far on one campaign promise: He said he would hire a climate and resiliency officer, to coordinate all of his administration’s efforts to combat climate change, in his first hundred days in office. It was one of the reasons why LCV gave the novice political candidate a well-timed endorsement, two months before last year’s closely fought Democratic primary.
So what has happened to this campaign pledge? Periodic inquiries of administration officials over the past few months have produced the same answer: “Soon.”
In a brief interview after his speech at the LCV dinner, Moore offered a similar response.
“We’re moving quickly to make sure we have the right person on board,” he said. “We plan on seating that person very quickly, because it is an important seat, and we’re moving smartly but moving aggressively to fill that seat.”
But some advocates and lawmakers fear that without a climate and resiliency officer in place, the state is missing golden opportunities to coordinate climate policy and monitor federal policy developments and funding programs.
“It’s disappointing and concerning that it’s taken this long to hire such a critical position,” said Josh Tulkin, executive director of the Maryland Sierra Club. “The state is making critical decisions on climate policy and this is an important time to be following federal policy. The governor was correct in identifying this position as being critical for this moment, and yet we don’t have anyone in this position at this critical moment.”
“It sounds like a very important position,” said Staci Hartwell, environmental and climate justice committee chair of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP.
Moore and his lieutenants have been plenty busy on the climate and environmental fronts, and several of their initiatives were celebrated at Thursday night’s dinner.
These include: expanding the state’s goals for building an offshore wind energy industry; growing the state’s community solar program; committing to following California’s cutting edge standards for electric vehicle sales; reinvigorating the Maryland Energy Administration to aggressively pursue clean energy goals; shaking up the Maryland Public Service Commission, the state’s utilities regulator; preparing a comprehensive plan for meeting aggressive emissions reduction mandates laid out in the Climate Solutions Act of 2022; joining a national coalition of governments committed to green building standards; emphasizing environmental justice in all relevant state decisions; and more.
The Moore administration is enlisting many state agencies in its fight to protect the state from the warming planet — not just the Department of the Environment, which is working on the plan for meeting the state’s climate mandates, but also the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Planning, the Department of Economic Development, and the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of General Services, and more.
In the view of some environmental advocates, it is the very comprehensive nature of the Moore administration’s fight against climate change that demands a climate czar to coordinate all the campaigns, as cabinet agencies remain largely siloed and focused on their core missions. However, the influential Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which is overseen by the Environment department, includes members from 10 other state agencies, along with representatives from green groups, business, labor, and the nonprofit sector.
Del. Dana M. Stein (D-Baltimore County), House sponsor of the Climate Solutions Now Act, credited Moore for “reinvigorating” the climate commission, which issues an annual report every fall.
But some environmentalists fret that the state could be missing out on important federal funding opportunities without a climate czar to keep track of them. Over the next few years, billions of dollars will be available to the states for climate and clean energy programs from the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law. But some funding will only be available through a competitive grant application process, and it isn’t clear who in the Moore administration is taking the lead in tracking them.
The Maryland Energy Administration, which was significantly hollowed out during the Hogan administration, has added about 15 positions in recent months — including a full-time staffer who is following federal funding opportunities.
One powerful lawmaker who shapes environmental policy said this week he sees the merits in having one state official overseeing the administration’s climate portfolio, but doesn’t believe it’s essential.
“Of course I would welcome a so-called climate czar,” said Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery), chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee. “But I’m not worried that the Moore administration doesn’t have good people working on this issue.”
Korman ticked off the names of some of the environmental stalwarts the governor has brought on to help him shape climate policy. “He stole Sen. Pinsky from the Senate. He stole [Environment and Transportation] Chairman [Kumar] Barve from the House [to join the Public Service Commission]. He lured [Environment] Secretary [Serena] McIlwain from California. I don’t think anything is being delayed as a result of there not being a climate czar.”
Del. Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County), who serves on the Environment and Transportation panel, said “it may not matter” if the administration hires a climate coordinator soon because so many of the agencies are so active on the climate front.
Still, there is great anticipation in the environmental community about the appointment.
“I can’t wait to see who it’s going to be,” Hartwell said.
Moore said hiring a climate and resiliency officer “still is” a priority.
“It’s going to come in very short order and we just want to make sure we’re moving smartly and diligently,” he said.