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  February 1, 2017

Maryland House Overrides Republican Governor in Favor of Green Jobs

Chesapeake Climate Action Network's founder says the Clean Energy Jobs Act will continue the greening of Maryland's economy in spite of attempts by the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections
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DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Dharna Noor, joining you from Baltimore.

With President Donald Trump threatening to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and choosing climate denier, Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, environmentalists are pressing action on a State and local level. This week the Maryland State House of Representatives overrode Republican Governor Larry Hogan's veto of The Clean Energy Jobs Act. The Maryland Senate is expected to follow suit and take up the override in the coming days, actually tomorrow, which would put the law into effect. The 2016 bill would ensure that Maryland will get 25% of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

With us from Tacoma Park, Maryland to discuss this, is Mike Tidwell. Mike is the founder and the director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots non-profit, dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in Maryland, Virginia and DC. Tidwell is also an author and a filmmaker whose books include: "The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas and The Death of America's Costal Cities." Thanks for joining us today, Mike. So, could you just begin by telling us a bit about what this bill would accomplish if it's passed? It's called the "Clean Energy Jobs Act", so what does this bill mean for energy and for jobs in Maryland?

MIKE TIDWELL: Well, this is an expansion of the State's current mandate for clean electricity in the State-wide electricity grid. Basically, it incentivizes the expansion of wind and solar power in the grid, creating thousands of jobs in both of those sectors, while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the State. It is a response to climate change. It's actually been State policy going back to 2004 when then Republican Governor, Robert Ehrlich, signed the original Clean Electricity Standard. And since 2004, it's literally created thousands of jobs in the wind and solar industry while reducing pollution. So, this Bill that, unfortunately Governor Larry Hogan vetoed in May; was overridden by the Maryland House of Delegates yesterday by a vote of, I believe 88 to 51; and we expect the Maryland Senate to override the veto tomorrow at which point it will become law.

DHARNA NOOR: And it's worth noting that the Senate override came on the same day as a release of a report from the U.S. Department of Energy which showed that from 2015 to 2016 the solar industry employed double the number of people that the oil, coal and gas industries did combined. So, when Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the bill in May, he said in his veto letter that he did so because, and this is a quote, "This legislation is a tax increase that will be levied upon every single electricity ratepayer in Maryland." Is there any truth to this? If this Bill is passed, will ordinary Maryland taxpayers actually pay the price?

MIKE TIDWELL: Well, according to Governor Hogan's own study, his Maryland Department of the Environment, in the fall of 2015, said that clean electricity standards in Maryland, along with other actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by statute, had actually expanded the State's economy dramatically and created 30,000 jobs in the last ten years. So, Larry Hogan is on record as saying these precise policies to incentivise wind and solar dramatically expand the, you know, net expansion of the economy and net increase in terms of jobs. So, for the Governor to call this a tax is basically like the Governor saying it is a bad thing for the economy to expand, and for jobs to increase. The truth is that the cost to Maryland ratepayers is about $0.58 per average household. That's $0.58 that they would see per month, a slight increase in their electricity bill because wind and solar, well, solar is slightly more expensive than, for example, mountaintop removal coal and combustion, which leads to global warming. But if you add the avoided health impacts, you know, fewer people die of lung cancer, fewer children have asthma, fewer parents miss their days at work because they have to stay at home with their kids who have asthma. If you factor in the health benefits and the jobs benefits and the economic benefits, this is a huge boon, as I said, to average Maryland households. So, the Governor has it wrong. His own data shows that he has it wrong. I think this is just a, you know, political grandstanding by the Governor. He thought he could score some points by confusing the Maryland public and calling it a tax. It's the opposite of a tax and his own data says so.

DHARNA NOOR: And looking nationally, Maryland's not the only State supporting legislation that promotes the use of renewables. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, has supported the Future Energy Jobs Bill in Illinois. In Michigan, Republican Governor Rick Snyder, supported a bill that encourages the use of renewables and removes the cap on the spending for the Energy Efficiency Program there. And your organization pointed out that Maryland's Clean Energy Bill garnered bipartisan support. So, talk about why you think such legislation is gaining popularity amongst even Republicans.

MIKE TIDWELL: People see it. People see solar on rooftops. They have someone in their extended family who now works for the solar industry or the wind industry. There are more people working in the solar industry in Maryland today than people working in the crab industry. So, people are just seeing it and they're seeing the benefits and they like it. And more and more people are concerned about climate change. They're living the impacts, whether it be sea level rise, you know, flooding in interior areas, drought in different parts of the country -- people are seeing the impacts of climate change at the same time that they are personally and directly experiencing the benefits of clean energy.

So, I think that's what is happening and no Governor and no President are going to stop the fact that wind and solar prices are falling, that there are many, many more jobs in these industries than mountaintop removal for coal, or fracking for gas, or deep water drilling for oil.

DHARNA NOOR: But this legislation is not getting passed without criticism. In Illinois, for instance, environmentalists like the Union of Concerned Scientists have pointed out that the Future Energy Jobs Bill reduced consumer savings from investing in efficient energy like solar power and they also pointed out that it contained subsidies for coal and gas plants. So, is the Clean Energy Jobs Bill here different and if so, how?

MIKE TIDWELL: I don't know the details of the Illinois bill. I know that there is nothing related to coal in Maryland's bill. In Maryland, this is basically the principal winners in Maryland are the Maryland solar industry and the wind industry, not just in Maryland but throughout the mid-Atlantic Region. There are some loopholes in the Maryland law. There are some paper mills that are able to declare that one by-product of paper milling is something called "black liquor" which companies have been combusting to create electricity since the 1930s. Because of a loophole in this law, they get credit for renewable energy which is wrong and unfair. And numerous environmental groups have tried to end that loophole for several years.

But it's a small percentage of the renewable energy portfolio in this state, a very small percentage. The overwhelming share of the growth in renewable energy in Maryland is wind and solar. The legislators know that. The legislators see it and that's why this veto override has been successful.

DHARNA NOOR: President Donald Trump and his appointees have been fairly hostile to any pro-environmental legislation. Last week, a leak from his transition team released by Axios, showed that he plans to essentially completely gut the EPA. And he sighed an Executive Order permitting the construction of the Keystone Excel and Dakota Access pipelines, both extremely controversial, of course. Here is a clip of him speaking to chief executives about that Executive Order.

DONALD TRUMP: It's big league. We're reducing taxes very substantially and we're reducing unnecessary regulations--

DHARNA NOOR: Could anti-environmental policy on a Federal level actually impact what's possible for the creation of green jobs on a State level?

MIKE TIDWELL: There's no question that what Donald Trump is doing in Washington is detrimental to the American people. It could lead to dirtier air, more oil spills, and other harms. There's just no way around that. And at the same time, what the President is doing is inspiring many states that are embracing the need for clean energy and are leaders on clean energy to go even further, even faster. California, for example, they are stepping up their game even further in the wake of Donald Trump. Many of the New England States and now you have Maryland, the House of Delegates voted yesterday to override the Republican veto of this clean electricity Bill. You're going to see, frankly, next year, even bigger clean electricity mandates coming before the Maryland General Assembly, in part as a reaction to Donald Trump. So, I think you're going to see a lot of the progressive States going even further and faster along the path of clean energy than you would have seen without Donald Trump. And the hope is that these states, California, for example, is the sixth largest economy in the world, that these States together can move the country in the right direction despite Donald Trump.

DHARNA NOOR: Mike Tidwell, thanks so much for joining us today.

MIKE TIDWELL: It's my pleasure.

DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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