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Maryland's renewable stand

Gov. Larry Hogan announces new environmental initiatives, proposing Maryland spend nearly $65 million next year on tax incentives, job training and a “Green Energy Institute” at the University of Maryland. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun video)

These are dark days for Marylanders who care about protecting the environment. In his first week in office, President Donald Trump has made it clear that he sees environmental restrictions mostly, albeit falsely, as an impediment to the economy. His administration is gagging agencies from talking about scientific fact. His nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can't even bring himself to commit to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Under these circumstances, it's more important than ever that states stand up for environmental concerns, for protecting our children's health from pollution, for ensuring that the threat of climate change is taken seriously. When those who should be leading the charge in Washington are not, Americans look to their state officials to pick up the fallen banner on their behalf. In Annapolis, an important first step in that campaign is expected to take place next week as the House and Senate vote on whether to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of legislation that would modestly increase the amount of renewable energy consumed in Maryland.

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Make no mistake, this is not some wild-eyed leftist cause but a reasonable nudge in the right direction. Maryland is already on track to secure about 20 percent of its electricity from cleaner sources like wind and solar; the proposal would raise it to 25 percent by 2020. More than half of states impose some form of renewable energy standard, and quite a few, from California to Maine, have already set the bar higher than 25 percent.

It was disappointing when Governor Hogan vetoed the measure, known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act, last year. It has been even more disappointing to see his political operatives fight the veto override by falsely labeling the legislation the "Sunshine Tax." The proposal does not impose a tax. But the governor and his supporters cynically believe that voters will not notice this and — much like the "Rain Tax" furor of two years ago — they will not bother to investigate, confident that something so absurdly titled as a tax on the sun's rays couldn't possibly be beneficial to them.

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Might forcing utilities like Baltimore Gas and Electric to purchase more electricity from renewable sources result in slightly higher monthly bills for ratepayers? Yes, that's possible — although it depends on the uncertainties of supply and demand, the future cost of renewable energy credits and whether federal Clean Air standards are adequately enforced by the Trump administration. But the best estimate, the one provided last year by the Department of Legislative Services, is that it will mean between 48 cents and $1.45 more per month for the average residential customer when fully implemented in 2025. Larger commercial users like manufacturers or shopping malls would obviously end up paying more.

Nobody likes to see their utility bill rise, of course, but by any measure that's a pittance. The average frost-free refrigerator costs at least 10 times that much to run. And most important is what that potential added expense might buy — chiefly less burning of coal for electrical generation and thereby less smog in the atmosphere, a smaller contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and a greater investment in renewable energy jobs. Considering Maryland's vulnerability to both air pollution and climate change (extreme weather events and rising sea levels are a mounting threat to flood-prone coastal areas), this represents a prudent investment.

Indeed, increasing the state's renewable energy portfolio standard alone is not the full remedy for what ails our planet. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require a much broader national and international effort. Yet given the track record of EPA nominee Scott Pruitt — who, although admitting to the existence of climate change during recent Senate confirmation hearings, played down its importance — the urgency for state-level remedies has simply never been greater. Maryland must take a stand because the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress will not.

For lawmakers to back down now — particularly after approving the measure last year by what should prove a veto-proof margin — would leave constituents already fearful of the four years that lie ahead with no place to turn. It's time to override one of Mr. Hogan's most ill-considered vetoes and demonstrate that Maryland embraces a cleaner energy future — not to mention self-preservation.

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