Climate takes center stage at Maryland gubernatorial forum
3/9/2022 | Stephen Neukam
Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK — Ten Maryland governor candidates laid out their plans for slashing carbon emissions, building mass transit projects, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and improving air quality in the state at a climate forum Tuesday at the University of Maryland in College Park.
The pool of candidates at the event, hosted by the online publication Maryland Matters and sponsored by several environmental organizations, included eight Democrats, one Republican and one Libertarian.
Some prominent candidates tried to draw distinctions between themselves and rival campaigns.
In one of the testiest moments of the forum, and the campaign thus far, John B. King, former U.S. secretary of Education, dinged fellow Democrat Tom Perez on his climate record as chair of the Democratic National Committee. He noted that while Perez was chair, the organization removed from its 2020 platform language that said the party would support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels.
King also argued the environmental policies of U.S. Army veteran and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore, also a Democrat, were “too little, too late.”
King’s platform includes reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2035. Moore vowed to achieve the same goal by 2045. Perez plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, according to his campaign.
Landmark climate legislation in the Democratic-controlled state Senate this session calls for the state to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
“Last night, Wes Moore demonstrated that he is the only candidate with the experience, vision, and experience needed to lead on Maryland’s climate, which is why he has earned the support of leaders in Maryland who know what it takes to lead on this issue,” the Moore campaign said in a statement.
The Perez campaign was not able to immediately respond to an inquiry about King’s comments at the forum for this story.
Moore and King told the audience they would appoint an environmental policy coordinator to review climate action across government. Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler made a similar commitment.
Perez said he would work to reduce carbon emissions from state buildings and make sure school construction is done sustainably. The state can lead by example with such policies, he said.
Gansler and Ashwani Jain, an official in the administration of former President Barack Obama, said they would more tightly monitor and regulate emissions from the state’s poultry producers, which emit millions of pounds of harmful ammonia each year.
The state does not currently regulate air emissions from large animal operations.
Two candidates, Moore and Gansler, said they would revive the multi-billion dollar Red Line light rail project in Baltimore, which was scrapped by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in 2015.
“The killing of the Red Line and the returning of close to a billion dollars back to the federal government, as if that money could not be put to use, was disqualifiable,” Moore said. “One of the biggest challenges we have… particularly when you are looking at the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, is transportation.”
To protect the Chesapeake Bay, Perez said, the state would need to use more sustainable agriculture practices to reduce chemical runoff.
“It’s not getting rid of farmers – that’s not how we do that,” Perez said. “I think we need to fundamentally continue the road ahead to sustainable agricultural practices… and by the way, they are pretty darn profitable.”
State Comptroller Peter Franchot, D, did not attend the event but is expected to appear at a similar forum Wednesday night at Goucher College in Baltimore. Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, D, was expected to attend both events but later declined, organizers said.
Organizers said two events were organized because scheduling conflicts would not allow all candidates to attend one forum. Some candidates will appear at both forums, like King, or only attend one, like Franchot, Moore and Perez.
Franchot’s campaign said in an interview with Capital News Service before the event environmental legislation moving through the state Senate was not aggressive enough in cutting carbon emissions in the state.
“Peter Franchot has a goal to make Maryland 100% energy independent via renewable energy and achieve net-zero carbon emissions before any other state,” Jordan Bellamy, Franchot’s press secretary, said in an email. “The target goal for moving fully to renewable energy is 2030.”
Climate activists said they were looking for the candidates to articulate specific and bold environmental plans.
Nina Jeffries, a senior environmental science and policy major at the University of Maryland and the coalition building coordinator at MaryPIRG, a student-led nonprofit working to solve social problems, said in an interview before the forum that young people are looking for a governor who will move quickly on climate change.
Bold environmental action will show young people that “they are putting science and the well-being of all Marylanders above all else,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries said young people will have to live through the consequences of climate change.
Anthony Field, Maryland campaign coordinator at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said before the forum that he wanted to see candidates lay out specific plans and timelines for their climate goals.
Field said in an interview he is hoping for a governor “who’s willing to work and support those efforts and not stand in the way.”