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Flames from the Kincade Fire consume a car in the Jimtown community of unincorporated Sonoma County, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Wildfires are growing deadlier and more destructive amid climate change.
Flames from the Kincade Fire consume a car in the Jimtown community of unincorporated Sonoma County, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Wildfires are growing deadlier and more destructive amid climate change. (Noah Berger/AP)

Gov. Larry Hogan deserves some kudos this week for standing on the side of science and rejecting the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. President Trump signaled his intent for the United States to leave the accord two years ago, but Monday it became official as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the one-year countdown to formal withdrawal has begun. The reasoning? Mostly, it’s a claim that the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions puts too great a burden on the U.S. economy — completely ignoring the disastrous effects of climate change even as wildfires burn in California and sea-level rise threatens coastal communities.

Despite past acknowledgement of climate science by Republican leaders from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, President Trump has mocked global warming as a hoax, and that outlook, in turn, has become dominant in his party. Never mind that there are only a handful of countries that have failed to ratify the agreement or that the nearly 200 parties who have include major polluters like China and India. Thecurrent GOP leadership’s devotion to the fossil fuel industry and its disinterest in the consequences of excess carbon in the atmosphere (even as their constituents suffer) now seems cast in stone in these politically polarized times. And that circumstance might be the single greatest obstacle to addressing the global crisis.

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On climate change, Maryland’s Republican governor stands tall

That’s why Governor Hogan’s statement issued this week in opposition to the Trump administration deserves attention. It is not surprising. Mr. Hogan has spoken out on this issue before. But as time marches on, the governor’s resolve seems to be firming. “While Washington continues to fail to address climate change, Maryland continues to lead,” Mr. Hogan points out. And while he doesn’t mention it by name, Maryland’s Clean Energy Jobs Act approved by the General Assembly earlier this year might be the best example of that leadership. The law mandates the state have 50% renewable energy by 2030 and though the governor didn’t sign the measure as “not clean enough, nor smart enough,” he has backed its basic goals including a long-term expectation of having 100% of Maryland’s electricity needs met by green energy by 2040.

Are there “greener” governors? Absolutely. But by Republican standards, Mr. Hogan truly stands out. He is one of two dozen governors (25 if one counts the territory of Puerto Rico) who are members of the bipartisan United States Climate Alliance which promotes clean energy policies. The group also issued a statement this week to “strongly oppose the administration’s decision to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement.” Mr. Hogan is one of only three Republican governors in the alliance, along with Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker and Vermont’s Phil Scott, two states that aren’t so dependent on coal-fired generation as Maryland. Vermont, for example, already gets most of its power from renewables — and has since 2016.

Gov. Larry Hogan is willing to speak out on climate change unlike most fellow Republicans in Washington.
Gov. Larry Hogan is willing to speak out on climate change unlike most fellow Republicans in Washington. (Katherine Frey)

This isn’t the only issue where Governor Hogan has shown a willingness to oppose President Trump. He’s defended special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference and the late Rep. Elijah Cummings from presidential attacks to name just two recent examples. But it might be the most consequential. He enjoys some of the highest approval ratings in the country (with at least one poll putting him and Governors Baker and Scott at 1, 2 and 3 in popularity). And should Mr. Trump crater in 2020, Republicans may yet return to their pre-Trump days when clean water, clean air, energy conservation and ameliorating the worst effects of climate change was not regarded as liberal claptrap but a prudent choice not to self-poison the planet.

President Trump’s recent sniping at California’s wildfires and blackouts has been a particularly vile display of cheap politics trumping compassion. The causes of the current disaster are multi-fold, but there’s simply no question that California has been made more vulnerable to to such events by a fundamental shift in climate with higher temperatures, stronger winds and worsened droughts. The Oval Office’s response? To threaten to withhold disaster aid. Americans can only hope that the sensibilities of Governor Hogan will one day return to the party that once cared about the environment.

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