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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)

Under Gov. Larry Hogan’s leadership, Maryland is living up to its strong commitment to environmental protection and climate change progress — and to protecting the health of our citizens.

To advance the fight for cleaner air, the Hogan administration adopted regulations to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants — regulations stronger than those proposed by the previous administration. And now we are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to spur action on our demand that power plants in upwind states reduce emissions that pollute the air that Marylanders breathe.

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To combat the effects of climate change, Governor Hogan enacted legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 — a standard significantly stronger than those in the Paris climate accord. Last year, as Maryland’s environment secretary, I proudly represented our state at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany. Maryland is demonstrating by example that it is possible to combat the effects of climate change while fostering a healthy environment and economy.

Even though Gov. Larry Hogan agreed to ban fracking in Maryland, he has quietly sought to expand the infrastructure for the use of fracked gas in the state.

This strong and balanced approach is also reflected in Maryland’s energy policies, which recognize that natural gas can play a role in meeting state and regional energy needs. As former President Barack Obama and most energy and environmental experts have said, natural gas is important as a bridge fuel to help our nation transition to cleaner energy while ensuring affordability and reliability along the way.

In December, Maryland announced a $161 million settlement agreement in the proposed merger of Washington Gas and Light’s parent company with AltaGas, Ltd. This agreement will foster economic development and reduce energy costs for residents and businesses, all while providing important environmental benefits. Using natural gas in place of coal, home heating oil, or industrial diesel provides environmental benefits, not only in terms of greenhouse gas emissions but in reduced smog and soot pollution. Last year, Governor Hogan took action to ban fracking in Maryland, but new energy infrastructure that complies with our stringent environmental standards is common sense policy for our state.

The Hogan administration also continues to fight for cleaner water, with an unprecedented $4 billion investment in Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts and a focus on critical issues, like the need to address sediment flowing through the Conowingo Dam. In collaboration with our federal delegation, the administration has fought proposed cuts in federal spending on bay restoration — and won. Pending draft renewal permits for three power plants require them to comply with updated, more stringent federal limits on wastewater discharges to the Patuxent and Potomac rivers.

A year after Maryland leaders settled a debate over the natural gas harvesting technique known as fracking by permanently banning it, environmentalists are battling projects like a Potomac River pipeline, the Cove Point terminal and a major investment by AtlaGas.

The Hogan administration’s actions since taking office show we are serious about protecting the Potomac River. We recently reached a tentative settlement with Montgomery County that imposes a significant financial penalty and includes a mandatory schedule for the county to reduce stormwater runoff to protect the Potomac watershed. In 2016, we entered into a consent decree that required power plant operator NRG Chalk Point LLC to pay a $1 million penalty, complete $1 million in supplemental environmental projects in the Patuxent and Potomac watersheds and upgrade the Chalk Point and Dickerson wastewater treatment plant technologies to ensure compliance with nitrogen limits.

In evaluating the application for a natural gas pipeline beneath the Potomac River, the Maryland Department of the Environment used a state permitting process that provides the tools needed to protect public health and our precious natural resources. After a year of robust, public review, we issued a stringent state permit with comprehensive, site- and project-specific safeguards.

Five people were arrested in on the Maryland State House steps Wednesday during a sit-in to protest a natural gas pipeline proposed to run beneath the Potomac River. The protesters were calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to block the project and end his support for gas industry investment in the state.

The permit includes nearly two dozen special conditions, including conditions to protect drinking water in both public water systems and private residential wells. On behalf of Marylanders, I urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider those conditions in their reviews of the proposed project.

In the end, results matter a lot more than talk. The Chesapeake Bay is the cleanest it has been in 25 years. We continue to make progress on clean air and climate change. Maryland is an environmental leader.

Ben Grumbles (ben.grumbles@maryland.gov) is secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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