Which Democratic gubernatorial candidate is best on the environment?

For a state with so much at stake environmentally — from the fragile Chesapeake Bay to communities that are vulnerable to extreme weather or sea level rise — there’s been relatively little discussion of the environment in the crowded Democratic primary to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan. Perhaps that’s because the Republican Mr. Hogan, while not perfect in the eyes of environmentalists, has been better on the issue than most expected, making it less fruitful as an avenue of attack. Perhaps it’s because the seven major Democratic candidates largely agree on major issues related to the bay and clean energy. But whatever the case, Maryland’s next governor will face important questions related to the environment, and there are some distinctions among the candidates that are worth considering.

All of them have pledged to increase the share of Maryland’s electricity that is generated through renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030 at the latest. (Former Obama adminsitration official Krish Vignarajah wants to get there by 2026.) There is general agreement on the idea that dirty sources of renewable energy, such as waste incineration, should not count. And they all believe the state should set a longer-term goal for getting to 100 percent clean energy, all of them by 2050 and one (state Sen. Richard Madaleno) as early as 2035. They all want to make Maryland a hub of clean energy manufacturing, and they all see quick adoption of offshore wind energy as crucial to that effort. And they all pledge to fight any efforts by the Trump administration to roll back the Chesapeake Bay pollution diet. But there are some differences in emphasis and unique ideas they present.

  • Author/entrepreneur Alec Ross is proposing the creation of a state-wide “green bank” to help businesses and individuals finance clean energy projects like solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling systems. The idea is to establish a pool of funds that can help leverage private investment by covering the upfront costs of such improvements, which can be paid back through the long-term energy savings. It’s worked elsewhere, including in Montgomery County.
  • Neither the Maryland League of Conservation Voters nor the state chapter of the Sierra Club has made an endorsement yet, but former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous has gotten endorsements from 350.org, Friends of Earth Action and some big-name national environmentalists. They praise his view of environmental issues through the lens of social justice and his work in protest of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and in support of a national cap and trade system.
  • Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has a strong environmental position paper developed in part by some notable Maryland environmental leaders — former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh — in addition to his running mate, Elizabeth Embry. Among the highlights that differ from others’ plans are pushing the state to move to all LEED-certified construction by 2030 and setting a course for making Maryland a zero-waste state through expanded composting and recycling.

Two candidates’ environmental proposals and records merit particular attention.

  • Ms. Vignarjah has the most holistic set of policy proposals on environmental issues among the candidates. (Her level of interest is perhaps not surprising since she’s married to the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation; she joked at one forum that every Democratic candidate says they love the environment, she’s the only one who went so far as to marry the head of the NWF.) Some notable points in her platform include a focus on limiting additional air pollution in poor communities; steps to make vulnerable areas (like low-lying coastal regions and Ellicott City) more resilient to the effects of climate change; and restoring habitat to protect at-risk species of native wildlife.
  • Mr. Madaleno may be best known in Annapolis for his budget acumen, but he also has a record of leadership on environmental issues. He has not just voted on the side of the environment but has been at the forefront of fights to establish renewable energy standards, ban fracking and stop pipeline projects, like the one now being planned to transport fracked gas under the Potomac. There is no need to wonder whether environmental protection would be a top priority for a Governor Madaleno. He’s already demonstrated that it is.

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