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Why Hogan should join the climate alliance

In general, we've had our fill of the press releases from Democratic gubernatorial candidates demanding that Gov. Larry Hogan denounce whatever it is that President Donald Trump just did. We get it; they're trying to tie our very popular Republican governor to our profoundly unpopular Republican president. But what do they want, a weekly press conference so Mr. Hogan can list all the things the president has done that caused him horror/embarrassment/disgust in the previous seven days? We certainly hope the Democrats have more to say to voters than that.

Gov. Larry Hogan gave perhaps his strongest indication yet that Maryland won't join the United States Climate Alliance, a group of states opposed to President Donald Trump's decision to abandon the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

But occasionally issues come along in which President Trump's actions have a particular and profound impact on Maryland that demand Mr. Hogan abandon his "don't touch him with a 10-foot pole" policy toward the president. The proposed elimination of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding was one; the threat to Maryland's Medicare waiver was another. Mr. Hogan stuck up for the state's interest in both cases, though mainly through behind-the-scenes efforts, not the full-throated denunciations his would-be successors demand.

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The latest is President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accords.

No question, Maryland is at far greater risk than most states from the effects of climate change, particularly rising sea levels, which could wipe out huge swaths of the state. Many (and not just those running against him) are now urging Mr. Hogan to join a dozen or so other states, plus the District of Columbia, that have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance — effectively, a pact to uphold the terms of the Paris deal whether the United States is officially a signatory or not.

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Though the governor is adept at ignoring the calls for him to renounce whatever Mr. Trump has been tweeting about lately, he seems to feel some pressure on this one. On Thursday, the governor sent out a barrage of news releases, tweets and Facebook posts related to environmental initiatives, the gist of which is that Maryland (i.e., his administration) is leading by example.

At a meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council (of which he just became chairman), Mr. Hogan questioned the Climate Alliance, saying "Our standards are twice as strong as the Paris accord, and it's not just a suggested goal, we've actually enacted it."

There's some posturing there, but also a valid point. The Paris agreement set goals for the U.S. to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. As of last year, Maryland was on pace to meet or exceed that target five years early, and that was before Governor Hogan signed a renewal and expansion of the state's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, committing the state to reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent from 2006 levels by the year 2030. What exactly joining the Climate Alliance would entail beyond what Maryland is already doing is unclear.

But even if it is a symbolic gesture, there would be good reasons for Mr. Hogan to sign on.

First, the purely political. If he doesn't join, we would be willing to bet a metric ton of carbon that Democrats in the General Assembly are going to make legislation forcing the state to sign on a top priority in next year's legislative session. They'll love it. Mr. Hogan can cut that circus off right now.

Second, still political, but in a more substantive way. Mr. Hogan's record on environmental issues is a lot better than many feared it would be. He provided important support for a ban on fracking. He signed the greenhouse gas reduction act. He adopted reasonable phosphorous management regulations. He declared victory on a rain tax repeal that wasn't actually a repeal of legislation that wasn't actually a tax on rain. He allowed the renewal of the EmPower Maryland program to go into law without his signature. He has supported Program Open Space funding.

Waters off the coast of Maryland will be home to not one but two offshore wind farms under a decision the Public Service Commission issued Thursday.

His Public Service Commission blessed wind farms off the Ocean City coast. But the record isn't perfect. His veto of legislation expanding requirements for the use of solar and wind energy in Maryland (which the legislature overrode) is a black mark on his record on climate issues. He has also loosened some O'Malley-era regulations on septic system controls, use of manure as fertilizer and stormwater management. Voters could use some clarity on how strongly he feels about environmental protection, and joining the alliance would be a no-cost way to provide it.

Finally, the substantive. Even if Maryland is already well on its way to achieving the Paris goals, most states in the region are not. Seeing a popular Republican governor stand up on this issue could increase pressure on others to do so. Pollution from coal fired power plants to our west not only contributes to the global warming that will disproportionately harm Maryland in the long term, but it also contributes to poor air quality here every day. Joining the climate alliance isn't just a matter of Mr. Hogan thumbing his nose at Mr. Trump. It's about protecting Marylanders right now.

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