Governor Hogan has recently released his environmental agenda for the 2017 legislative session. He proposes to spend roughly $65 million on programs designed to improve the environment. However, his plan has been met with caution from the Democratic majority in the Maryland General Assembly.
The $65 million will go towards tax rebates, job training, efforts to clean the Chesapeake Bay, and a variety of small programs to incentivize consumer interest in green energy. “We owe it to the next generation of Marylanders to continue to find innovative and cost effective ways to protect Maryland’s environment,” Hogan said at an Annapolis news conference.
$41 million of the apportioned $65 million will be funded by a 2012 settlement with energy company Exelon. The funds were mandated to be directed towards green energy efforts.
The other $24 million of the allotted funds would be spent on economic stimulus for green energy in an effort to address one of its most significant challenges: the hefty price tag and lack of consumer interest.
These stimuli include enhancing the current tax credits that encourage people to buy electric and energy-efficient cars. Hogan suggests investing $3 million into Maryland’s Employment Advancement Right Now program, which would spearhead an initiative to train thousands of workers in solar, wind, and hydroelectric industries. His plan also allocates $7.5 million to creating a Green Energy Institute at the University of Maryland Research Center.
His agenda also includes a much-needed clean-up of the contamination and waste in the Chesapeake Bay, an essential watershed for ecosystems across Maryland and other Chesapeake states. The passage of the Clean Water Commerce Act would allow Maryland to spend up to $10 million to buy nutrient-reduction credits, funneling money to farmers, local governments, or treatment plants if they exceed the pollution reductions under the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean-up plan. This creates a market in which private organizations can try to clean the bay in order to make a profit.
The money for the program would come from the Bay Restoration Fund and the fees attached to sewer and septic management. According to the Baltimore Sun, Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles commented, “We can create a market for even better projects.”
The Green Energy Institute that Hogan recommends would be a collaboration with the University of Maryland Energy Research Center. He envisions a clean energy research hub geared towards developing private business support and investment in environmental measures. According to the Baltimore Sun, Hogan stated in support of the program, “The proposals in our package are innovative, forward-thinking solutions to ensure that Maryland continues to lead the way to safeguard our environment.”
However “innovative” and “forward-thinking” these measures really are, many legislators are hesitant to support his initiative. According to the Baltimore Sun, Democratic Senator Paul Pinsky stated in opposition to the plan, “He’s throwing little bits of money at small, disparate projects that may or may not contribute to the overall problems affecting the air and water of the state.”
Mike Tidwell, the director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said, “He’s late to the party.” He argued that Hogan’s agenda would not create any significant change, especially in light of his past actions. Citing tax hikes, Hogan vetoed a bill in 2016 that would have required Maryland to obtain 25%, rather than 20%, of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, citing tax hikes.
On the other hand, some environmental advocates are cautiously optimistic about his plan. Rose Kelly, a sophomore from Richard Montgomery High School, draws a compelling comparison. Although she feels that Hogan should take larger steps towards improving the environment, she also understands the need to weigh both economic and environmental interests.
Kelly stated, “The environment is like a brain tumor and the economy is like a broken arm. In the long run, the tumor is way worse, but in order to function properly, you need your arm fixed immediately. I think that Hogan’s plan doesn’t do much to shrink the tumor, but it probably does stop it from growing and hopefully the plan will serve as something of a cast for the arm.”
Sophomore Russell Corbin Richard Montgomery High School shares Kelly’s belief that these steps are in the right direction but should be expanded upon. He asserted, “Any action to fight climate change is quintessential, but where we are now, we can’t hold back.” Walter Johnson junior Nancy Han agreed with the fundamentals of Hogan’s agenda, but added, “His current plan is geared to the future, so he should also do something that will impact us right now, such as making local businesses cut down emissions.”
Science teacher Mrs. Boccher from Richard Montgomery High School, said, “We need to do something about runoff pollution, because it affects the bay and the EPA mandates that we do something about it.”
She continued, “We are supposed to be regulating how much phosphorous farmland can put out, but the governor repealed that quite immediately, so we need another solution for how we can hold our agricultural land on the Eastern Shore responsibly.”
Of course, his policy agenda cannot be implemented without the approval of the Maryland General Assembly, so the consequences of his plan have yet to be determined. However, the bill undoubtedly reflects Hogan’s turn towards more market-based approaches to environmental policy.
Article by MoCo Student Staff Writer Emily Tian of Richard Montgomery High School