Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan outlined his legislative agenda for the environment on Tuesday, announcing a plan to spend just under $65 million on programs and initiatives to promote job growth in green industries, encourage the use of electric vehicles and reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
The package includes a $3 million investment in the state’s Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) program, which would train about 1,500 workers for jobs in solar, wind, hydroelectric and other green industries; a $7.5 million partnership with the University of Maryland Energy Research Center to create the Green Energy Institute, which would develop and attract private investment in clean-energy initiatives; and an increase in the state’s electric vehicle tax credit.
It would need to be approved by the Democratic-majority General Assembly.
“The proposals in our package are innovative, forward-thinking solutions to ensure that Maryland continues to lead the way to safeguard our environment,” Hogan (R) said. “We owe it to the next generation to continue to find cost-effective ways to protect Maryland’s environment and stimulate economic growth.”
Reaction from environmental advocates was mixed. Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said she was cautiously optimistic about the proposals and pleased that the governor was “showing an interest” in environmental protections.
But Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said Hogan’s plan would do relatively little to advance clean energy and does not make up for the governor’s 2016 veto of a bill that would have required the state to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
“He’s late to the party,” Tidwell said. “The real gains have been happening despite his opposition.”
The 2016 bill, which passed with a veto-proof majority, would have expanded the use of solar and wind power and created thousands of jobs, environmental advocates say.
Hogan said he vetoed the legislation because it would have imposed a “tax increase of between $49 million and $196 million by 2020” to fund the program’s goals.
The legislature’s Democratic majority is expected to try to overturn the veto during the session that begins next week.
Tidwell also criticized the governor for what he described as a reduction in the number of employees at the Maryland Energy Administration, a small government agency charged with advising the governor and General Assembly on energy policy and promoting clean energy.
“That agency was key in advising consumers, key in advising the General Assembly, and testifying on bills,” Tidwell said. “[Hogan] has downsized it to irrelevance. It’s a shell of its former self.”
Hogan officials referred questions about staffing to the agency, which has seen considerable turnover since the governor took office nearly two years ago. MEA spokesman John Fiastro said the agency has gone from 34 full-time-equivalent positions in fiscal 2015 to 28 in the current fiscal year, and has one full-time and four “contractual” vacancies.
“We’re undertaking everything we need to undertake,” he said.
Under the Clean Cars Act of 2017, Hogan said Monday, the state would increase its investment in the tax credit program by about 30 percent, a move designed to encourage more residents to buy electric vehicles.
Hogan said the Clean Water Commerce Act would allow the state to spend up to $10 million of the Bay Restoration Fund to purchase nutrient-reduction credits, which would help meet the state’s 2025 goal under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Improvement Plan.
Department of Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said the initiatives proposed by Hogan will “make generational progress in improving the environment.”
Josh Hicks contributed to this report.