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Time to redefine renewable energy in Maryland | READER COMMENTARY

Months of dizzying dysfunction in Congress has left the U.S. empty-handed at the Glasgow United Nations Climate Change Conference. President Joe Biden arrived at COP26 with nothing to point to as an example of American leadership on climate policy. But where Washington is failing, Maryland can lead.

Climate leadership can begin right here, starting with taking on the false solutions entrenched in our state’s renewable energy program. In 2019, Maryland committed to 50% renewable energy by 2030 via a “renewable portfolio standard” (RPS) program — but there’s a catch. While the program sounds good on paper, it’s opened a back door to pollution, at our peril (”Producing renewable energy: Maryland’s future?” Sept. 13).

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Maryland’s definitions of “renewable” are out of whack with reality. Food & Water Watch has given the state’s RPS program an “F” grade for its inclusion of numerous polluting energy sources as clean. These loopholes threaten to undo the very goals the program sets out to achieve — in 2019, 40% of the state’s “clean” energy came from polluting sources.

Under the program, Baltimore’s infamous trash incinerator, which emits toxic air pollution just blocks away from people’s homes, is “clean” enough to receive millions in taxpayer dollars to continue operating. This “clean” energy source costs residents of our region $55 million annually in health damages — causing particular harm to the predominantly low income communities of color nearby.

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Under the program, factory farm biogas is also deemed a clean energy solution. That means that the corporate agriculture industry, the Chesapeake Bay’s largest polluter, has a new revenue stream, monetizing their 580 million pounds of poultry litter produced annually on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Factory farm biogas is just the latest moneymaker for an industry that has no real intention of dealing with its waste problem. What’s more, factory farm biogas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that travels through pipelines, keeping fossil fuel infrastructure on the grid and extending a lifeline to the fracked gas industry.

Maryland’s renewable energy plan is flawed but fixable. A coalition of groups has launched a campaign to clean up Maryland’s clean energy program. The Reclaim Renewable Energy Coalition is working with Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Montgomery County Democrat, to introduce legislation in the 2022 General Assembly session that will eliminate dirty energy sources from the RPS.

Leadership on climate, at home and abroad, means sticking to real solutions and cutting out the greenwashed noise. Maryland can lead the way and set an example for the nation on what a truly clean energy grid looks like — that begins with cleaning up our RPS.

Lily Hawkins, Washington, D.C., and Ashley Esposito, Baltimore

The writers are members of the Reclaim Renewable Energy Coalition, and Ms. Hawkins is a Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Watch.

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