Bay Journal

Hogan vetoes renewable energy bill, lets pesticide curb, oyster study become law

'Clean Energy Jobs' measure passed General Assembly by veto-proof margin

  • By Timothy B. Wheeler on May 27, 2016
Bills on renewable energy, pesticide restrictions and oyster harvest study all passed the Maryland General Assembly this year. Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the energy bill, but allowed the other two to become law without his signature. (Timothy B. Wheeler)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill Friday that would have required the state’s electricity suppliers to get more power from renewable sources, but allowed two other environmental bills — one restricting pesticide use and another requiring a study of oyster harvests — to become law without his signature.

The “Clean Energy Jobs” bill, which passed the General Assembly by a wide margin, would have committed the state to get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, up from the current goal of 20 percent by 2022.

Hogan, a Republican who ran for office on a pledge to lower taxes, said the energy bill was effectively a tax increase on electricity ratepayers, saying they would have to pay more for costlier power generated by wind, solar and other renewable sources.

“The goal … is laudable, but increasing taxes to achieve this goal is the wrong approach,” he said in a letter to the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. 

Hogan’s veto could be overridden next year, as the renewable energy bill passed both chambers by more than the requisite three-fifths majority.

Requiring more of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources could cost ratepayers $49 million to $196 million more overall by 2020, the governor estimated. He said under Maryland’s existing renewable energy law, ratepayers have already paid more than $104 million toward achieving the state’s current goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.

The state’s “renewable portfolio standard” law has been amended repeatedly since its original enactment in 2004.  Based on 2014 data, Maryland’s electricity suppliers have been close to meeting their compliance requirements by buying, renewable energy credits for sources such as hydroelectric, paper manufacturing waste, municipal solid waste and wind resources, in addition to solar.

While saying he appreciated the economic benefit of the state’s growing solar industry, Hogan said he did not believe the state should add to ratepayers’ burden to support it. 

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, issued a statement sharply criticizing Hogan, saying his veto has hurt Maryland’s economy as well as its environment. Tidwell predicted “immediate job losses in the solar industry” and delayed improvements to air quality, unless and until the legislature passes the measure over the governor’s veto.

Activists had hoped that Hogan would bend his avowed opposition to anything smacking of a tax or fee, noting that he had backed and promptly signed into law a measure increasing the state’s commitment to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gases.

In that light, Tidwell said, “It's deeply hypocritical for the governor to say he supports reducing greenhouse gas pollution and now to veto the top policy solution.”

Hogan allowed 40 other bills to become law without his signature, including one that would bar consumer access to pesticides implicated in honeybee die-offs and another requiring a study to determine sustainable harvest levels for Chesapeake Bay oysters.

Under the Pollinator Protection Act, the state is imposing sales and use restrictions on a class of bug-killing chemicals called neonicotinoids, which some studies have implicated in die-offs of honeybees and other pollinators. Starting Jan. 1., 2018, products containing those chemicals may only be sold to and used by state-certified pesticide applicators.

Farmers, farm workers and veterinarians would be exempt from the ban. Nor would it apply to flea and tick repellants for pets, lice and bedbug treatments or to indoor insecticides such as ant bait.

Neonicotinoids are among the most widely used pesticides in the world, and are considered effective at protecting crops. Farm groups, nursery operators and state agriculture officials had opposed the bill, arguing that the restriction was unwarranted and that the regulation of pesticides should be left to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Bees and other pollinators have been in steep decline, with experts saying they’re under siege from a variety of factors, including mites, disease, lack of adequate nutrition and habitat loss. But a number of studies — though disputed by the chemicals’ manufacturers — have also implicated neonicotinoids. And Maryland beekeepers have reported significant losses of honeybee colonies in recent years.

Ruth Berlin, executive director of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network, called it “a historic moment,” as the state becomes the first in the nation to restrict consumers’ use of neonicotinoids.

“This act is necessary for our future food supply,” Berlin said. “We hope this motivates other states — and the federal government — to reduce the use of toxic neonic pesticides.”

A Hogan spokesman issued a statement expressing sympathy for beekeepers’ losses without saying why the governor wouldn’t sign the bill. Douglass Mayer, Hogan’s deputy communications director, noted that the governor supported another bill that passed this year that tasks state agencies with increasing pollinator habitat in planning state construction projects.

The other controversial environmental bill set to become law without Hogan’s signature requires the state Department of Natural Resources to determine a sustainable level of harvest for wild oysters in Maryland’s portion of the Bay. Hogan’s spokesman did not respond to queries about the bill or why the governor didn’t sign it.

As originally introduced, the measure would have tasked the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science with conducting an oyster stock assessment and determining if the shellfish were being overharvested. 

The DNR is already required by state law to make those assessments, but has never done one for oysters. Such an assessment would enable state fisheries managers to adjust the harvest based on scientifically based estimates of the number of bivalves in the water. The DNR does make annual surveys of juvenile oyster settlement on reefs and of mortality, but regulators now set harvest season lengths, daily catch limits and gear restrictions without an actual estimate of how many oysters are in state waters.

Watermen flocked to Annapolis to oppose the bill, contending that it was an attempt by recreational anglers and environmentalists to impose further restrictions on their oyster harvests. They questioned the need for a study, and complained that the university would not be objective. In the General Assembly’s final days, a deal was reached in which the DNR would do the study in consultation with UMCES. Watermen remained opposed to the bill, though.

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About Timothy B. Wheeler
Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Timothy B. Wheeler

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