Hogan's soft line on fossil fuels

The Hogan administration recently announced the approval of a Nontidal Wetlands and Waterways permit for a fracked gas pipeline that would slice through Western Maryland and waived its right to perform a full, independent review of the pipeline under the Clean Water Act. The proposed “Potomac pipeline” is a project of TransCanada — the same company that is behind the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline — and would drill under the Potomac River, one of our state’s most important natural resources. Is this how our state wants to respond to dangerous climate change and transition Maryland away from fossil fuels?

Gov. Larry Hogan signed the fracking ban into law only after tremendous pressure from Maryland residents while setting a new goal to reduce climate pollution 40 percent below 2006 levels by 2030. Certainly these actions are commendable, but there appears to be a troubling trend toward leniency for fossil fuels in the state.

For instance, Maryland still has seven coal plants operating within our borders, serving as some of the largest polluters in our state and some of last plants in the region without a retirement date. On his first day in office in 2015, Governor Hogan blocked new air pollution limits for these plants and later, under public pressure to act, issued a replacement that nevertheless allows some coal plants to avoid installing modern pollution controls. Recently, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) appeared to side with the Trump EPA — failing to issue new safeguards on water pollution from three Maryland coal plants, whose permits expired in 2014, despite monitoring data showing that the facilities routinely exceed newly applicable federal limits on arsenic and selenium.

To be clear, Marylanders don’t want to breathe coal pollution or drink it from our rivers. We must work toward a coal-free Maryland that protects workers, families and communities.

We must also be just as vigilant against fracked gas. Despite what Governor Hogan’s MDE Secretary, Ben Grumbles, has falsely claimed, fracked gas is not a “bridge fuel.” In order to protect our public health and mitigate climate disruption, we simply cannot continue the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in Maryland.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many in the public, the Hogan administration has been quietly working to actually expand fracked gas consumption in the state. It recently came to light that Mr. Hogan’s Maryland Energy Administration has been negotiating a $100 million investment into expanding fracked gas infrastructure in the state via the proposed merger proceeding of AltaGas and Washington Gas and Light before the Maryland Public Service Commission. Instead of pushing much needed clean, efficient electric heat pumps, a $100 million fracked gas expansion program would lock us into decades of additional fossil fuel use and potential leaks of methane, a more potent climate-disrupting pollutant than even carbon dioxide.

Which brings us back to the Potomac pipeline. MDE’s announcement is a blow to Maryland’s hopes of being a leader on climate action. At various hearings at the end of 2017 and in January of this year, it was resoundingly clear that Marylanders are concerned about the Potomac pipeline’s potential impact on our water quality and our contribution to climate pollution. In spite of that, MDE chose not to conduct a full, independent analysis of the proposed pipeline under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Maryland should take after New York, which chose to conduct a full water quality certification review on a pipeline proposed there. Maryland must use its authority under the Clean Water Act to review proposed projects that would impact our state.

That is why I introduced House Bill 1826, emergency legislation that would require MDE to conduct a full, independent analysis of pipeline projects proposed in sensitive geology and not allow the agency to voluntary waive its right to conduct such an analysis. In order to rectify MDE’s failure, the bill also requires the state to deny without prejudice the current application of the Potomac pipeline and go back to conduct a full 401 review should TransCanada wish to move forward. This is what Marylanders want and what they deserve.

I ask my colleagues in the General Assembly to allow this bill a hearing and join me in demanding more action on transitioning Maryland off fossil fuels. It’s time for us to start on the pathway to 100 percent clean energy, not continue to prop up the fossil fuel industry.

Shane Robinson (shane.robinson@house.state.md.us), a Democrat, represents District 39 in Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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