by Carrie Snurr
Capital News Serivce
The Maryland League of Conservation Voters on Tuesday gave Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan high marks for his commitment to preserving open space, but an overall “Needs Improvement” grade on its 2017 report card, largely because, the group said, the Republican governor’s stated environmental positions are not supported fully by his legislative actions.
“We want to give him credit for his accomplishments but there is still room for improvement,” Ed Hatcher, chair of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said Tuesday.
The group commended Hogan for having a “clear commitment” to protecting open space in the state. They also said that Hogan used his position to promote good government.
And the report highlighted three bills Hogan pushed that reformed Maryland’s Public Information Act to improve the responsiveness of agencies, and create a Public Information Act Compliance Board in 2015.
The report card is based on six categories: energy and climate change; transportation; administration and appointments; land preservation and program open space; water quality; and democracy.
Hogan scored “excellent” in the category of Land Preservation and Program Open Space. The group gave Hogan a “mixed” score for the categories of democracy, and administration and appointments. He received a score of “needs improvement” in the other three categories.
“This mark reflects actions that do not support the strong pro-environment statements Governor Hogan has made since the beginning of his term,” the report said. It continued: “Hogan’s words speak of a Marylander dedicated to preserving the natural wonder and beauty of a state he loves, but his actions don’t always prioritize environmental and public health.”
“We appreciate the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and all the great work they do, but we wholeheartedly disagree with their assessment,” Hogan’s press office said in a statement emailed to the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
“Since taking office, the Hogan administration has consistently supported efforts to improve air and water quality in our state and will continue to make it a focus going forward.” The statement added that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation last year gave the Bay its highest rating since it started grading the water quality in 1998.
“The governor’s budget reaffirms his commitment to the environment and our treasured natural resources, including the Chesapeake Bay,” Mark Belton, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources secretary, said Tuesday in a press release.
Hogan’s budget fully funds the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund for the 2018 fiscal year for the second year in a row, only the second time that restoration efforts of the bay have been fully funded, Belton’s press release said.
The league’s report noted that Maryland has one of the highest levels of smog in the eastern portion of the United States.
It also rated Hogan as “poor” under voting rights laws based on his veto of a bill that would have given almost 40,000 former inmates convicted felons the ability to register to vote. Hatcher said that the group emphasizes voting rights because it believes that if more people can vote more people can help make changes to benefit the environment.
Hatcher said Hogan supported goals laid out by the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act — which the governor signed and which requires a reduction of global warming pollution of 40 percent by 2030.
But the governor vetoed an expansion of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which the group called an essential component to reaching the goals laid out in the act.
The House of Delegates and the Senate have scheduled veto override votes for later this session.
The portfolio standard would have mandated that Maryland derive 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources. It would have been an expansion to an earlier mandate, which required 20 percent of Maryland’s energy come from renewable sources by 2022.
“We want to hold the governor accountable,” Hatcher said, “this report card does that. We want to provide a roadmap for how he can be an environmental governor.”
He added that when the ratings had been letter grades, as in earlier years, there had been too much emphasis on the grade itself, rather than on the assessment of the governor’s performance. The group wants to maintain an open dialogue with Hogan’s administration to improve environmental standards and conditions in Maryland.
Hatcher and Karla Raettig, executive director for the group, both emphasized the need for stronger environmental policies at the state level because of the new administration in Washington. Hatcher said that under President Donald Trump’s administration, state action becomes much more important.
“We will not be able to rely on the federal administration (to protect the environment),” Raettig added, “We hope to see him (Hogan) really step up in the coming years.”
Trump has expressed that he intends to roll back environmental regulations. He signed executive orders to revive two controversial oil pipelines, the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines — on Tuesday.
The League of Conservation Voters describes itself as a nonpartisan watchdog organization that endorses pro-conservation candidates and advocates for pro-environmental policies.
It issues score cards every year for each member of the Maryland legislature based on their voting record on environmental issues. The group also examines session legislation that impacts the environment.
This is the first full report card that the group issued for Hogan. They issue a report card every two years, however, they did not issue a report card at the end of former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s term. The group issued a preliminary scorecard for Hogan’s first 100 days.
“It’s been four years since we’ve done a report card because we’ve had a change in administration,” Raettig said in a phone call with the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.
That 100-day report stated that Hogan advanced environmental progress but said that many of his positions on environmental issues were still unknown.