Governor Vetoes Clean Energy Jobs Act, Views It As Tax

ANNAPOLIS — For clean energy advocates, Governor Larry Hogan has gone from hero to goat in less than two short months.

In April, many of the state’s environmentalists praised Hogan when he signed the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Act, a bill that reaffirmed the state’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by raising the bar to a projected 40% from 2006 levels by 2030.

Yet, many environmentalists and clean energy advocates believe Hogan has done a complete 180-degree turn with his recent veto of Senate Bill 921/House Bill 1106, also known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

The bill, which passed with sizeable support from both sides of the political aisle, committed Maryland to getting 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which is a 5% increase from the current goal.  Additionally, the step would create incentives that would create roughly 1,300 megawatts of new clean energy in the state.

“Governor Hogan’s veto of the bipartisan Clean Energy Jobs Act is a shock to business leaders and Marylanders who value clean air and water,” said Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Action Climate Network. “While we fully expect the General Assembly to override this veto, Governor Hogan has ushered in harm to our economy and environment in the meantime.”

Advocates like Tidwell speculate that in the short term, Hogan’s veto could cause immediate job losses in the solar industry, while delaying reductions in harmful air, water and climate pollution.

“It’s deeply hypocritical for the governor to say he supports reducing greenhouse gas pollution and then veto the top policy solution,” said Tidwell.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act was co-sponsored by Senator Catherine Pugh and Delegate Bill Frick. Frick called the veto “absurd.”

“The state has more people working in solar than it does its iconic crabbing industry,” said Frick. “I think this was about partisanship and pointing fingers.”

For more than a decade, Maryland has been one of the leading states in enacting programs that require utilities to use more renewable energy. Additionally, clean energy is popular in the “Old Line State,” with recent polling pointing to more than 70% of Marylanders supported the Clean Energy Jobs Act, even if it would have added 50 cents to their electric bills.

Last fall, the Department of Environment said the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), created by former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2004, were creating thousands of jobs and yielding billions in economic activity across the state.

Hogan, however, was quite clear as to why he vetoed the bill.  He called the RPS a tax on ratepayers.

“This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied upon every ratepayer in the state, and for that reason alone,” said Hogan in a letter to the General Assembly, “I cannot allow it to become law.”

Hogan’s letter to the General Assembly went on to say that the Clean Energy Jobs Act and more specifically the RPS would tax Maryland ratepayers an additional $49 million to $196 million by 2020.

“Under its existing law, Maryland retains its status as a national leader in achieving RPS goals,” said Hogan. “While I appreciate the economic benefit of Maryland’s growing solar industry, there is also a corresponding cost which is borne by all citizens under Senate Bill 921. I believe the state should not add this burden.”

In 2014, only 7% of the state’s electricity generation was made by renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydro, but the state now boasts more than 4,300 people working in the solar industry and ranks 11th in the country in installed capacity.

Tidwell noted that the Clean Energy Jobs Act passed both the Senate and the House with enough votes to overturn the governor’s veto in January when the General Assembly reconvenes.

“In defending his veto, Governor Hogan ignored the overwhelming economic and consumer benefits of clean energy, while using misleading statistics to distort the cost impact of the bill,” said Tidwell. “In fact the Clean Energy Jobs Act does not impose any new taxes while it will help Marylanders save money through affordable solar and better health.  Meanwhile, the costs of fossil fuels to our health and climate keep rising. In a state that’s experienced so much clean energy job growth and is so vulnerable to sea level rise, the Governor’s veto is bad for business, bad for our environment and bad politics.”

The General Assembly overturned five of the Governor’s vetoed bills last session and Tidwell believes discussion of this particular bill is not anywhere near over.

About The Author: Bryan Russo

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Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.