One of Gov. Wes Moore’s nominees for the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, withdrew from consideration Tuesday amid concerns about his background.
Environmental groups were angered by Moore’s nomination of Juan Alvarado, senior director of energy analysis at the American Gas Association, citing fears that he would defer to gas companies during decision-making.
Prior to his two-year tenure at the natural gas association, Alvarado was a staff member at the Public Service Commission for 12 years, supporting the five-member body, including as director of the telecommunications, gas and water division.
In a statement released Tuesday by Moore’s communications office, Alvarado said he stepped back after “considerable reflection,” and for “personal reasons.”
“Climate change is the fight of our lives, and I believe that we have real and substantive challenges to meet Maryland’s goals while ensuring continuous and equitable service at fair rates,” Alvarado wrote. “Those challenges mean all stakeholders need to be at the table executing the state’s vision towards a sustainable future.”
According to its website, the AGA represents more than 200 energy companies that provide natural gas service, and “educates the public about the importance of natural gas.”
In a statement Tuesday, Moore defended Alvarado’s credentials.
“Juan shares our conviction that addressing climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and his deep understanding of the Public Service Commission was knowledge that would have served Maryland well,” Moore said.
Moore added that his next nominee for the position will be “aligned with our administration’s goals.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson said Tuesday it is “hard to say” whether Alvarado would have had the votes necessary to be confirmed by the Senate, adding that no hearing was held.
“From what I’ve heard from members of the PSC, they thought he was a sincere professional, was thoughtful,” the Baltimore Democrat said.
Ideal candidates for the PSC “have to be willing to listen to all sides of the issue, to be able to make the best decision for the long term future of the state,” Ferguson said.
Maryland needs to “assess the logistical feasibility” of achieving some of its climate goals, and the associated costs, he added.
Moore’s appointment of Alvarado came as a surprise to interested environmental groups, who were optimistic that Moore would help shift the balance of the commission away from those friendly to gas companies. Commissioners appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan attracted such criticism.
Moore withdrew two of Hogan’s nominees for the commission to replace them with his own. He also selected Fred Hoover, the former head of the Maryland Energy Administration.
In a statement following Alvarado’s nomination, the director of the Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter, Josh Tulkin, likened Moore’s decision to “appointing a fox to oversee the henhouse.”
“Mr. Alvarado is the wrong candidate for this job,” Tulkin wrote. “The American Gas Association (AGA), his current employer, continues to perpetuate dangerous disinformation regarding the health and climate harms of gas, while actively undermining efforts to pursue cleaner alternatives.”
Environmental groups were buoyed recently by a plea from the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel — which represents state ratepayers — for the Public Service Commission to step in to slow gas companies’ investments in new gas infrastructure.
The petition from People’s Counsel David Lapp argued that new investments in infrastructure could fall on the backs of a dwindling group of ratepayers as Maryland shifts toward more electric power.
In response to Lapp’s statements in a Baltimore Sun guest commentary, Public Service Commission Chairman Jason Stanek wrote that natural gas likely will still play a role given that “the economics of a decarbonized future are highly uncertain.”
State law calls for Maryland’s electric grid to rely increasingly on renewable energy sources. It’s a touchstone of the state’s climate change goals, which call for a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2006 levels by 2031, and carbon neutrality by 2045.
Last year, as part of a climate change package, lawmakers considered a construction code that would have required all new large buildings in the state to solely use electricity for space and water heating. But the provision was removed after pushback from utilities, and a study was commissioned to evaluate the grid’s ability to handle the change. Under the bill, owners of existing buildings of at least 35,000 square feet are required to reduce their carbon footprints by 20% by 2030.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.