University of Maryland students and Maryland residents gathered Tuesday at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center as Maryland gubernatorial candidates discussed the state’s most pressing climate change concerns, including the Chesapeake Bay, environmental justice and clean transportation.
The League of Conservation Voters and Maryland Matters hosted 10 candidates at Tuesday evening’s forum. Many candidates who have had experience in climate policy making stressed that the climate crisis must be a top priority for any future administration.
“We have all too frequently dealt with the challenges of climate change one agency at a time,” said Tom Perez, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Democratic candidate from Montgomery County. “Time is running out to tackle climate change.”
Candidates discussed how a future governor should handle Maryland’s turn to decarbonization and clean energy.
Wes Moore, a former CEO of a nonprofit and author, is running for the Democratic nomination. He stressed that it was crucial for future administrations have a point person on climate policy.
“The people who are closest to the challenge are the ones who are closest to the solutions,” Moore said. “We will appoint someone who will report directly to me, for sustainability, mitigation and response.”
Moore added that his administration would work to better fund the state’s environmental justice commission — a body that analyzes and reviews the impact of laws, regulations and policy on equity. Moore also stated that he would work to achieve net-zero emission by 2045.
Democratic candidate and former U.S. Education Secretary John King took a more aggressive stance in a push for carbon neutrality — laying out a goal of net-zero emissions by 2035.
King said that his administration will work closely with Maryland General Assembly in order to ensure that all legislation has been viewed from a climate and race equity perspective. King said that every member of the administration should consider climate an item on their agenda.
Some candidates also highlighted ways that their state government could lead the transition to sustainable energy for all Marylanders.
“There’s so much we can do as a state to make sure we leverage because old buildings are the some of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” Perez said. “Some of the oldest buildings in the state belong to the state of Maryland. We need to model behavior.”
Other candidates, like libertarian David Lashar, said the state should look into diversifying the state’s energy portfolio with emerging nuclear technologies.
“On the climate, we should be concerned and take action, but not feel panicked,” Lashar said.
Using nuclear energy to as a part of Maryland’s clean energy portfolio was a major talking point for candidates. The lone Republican at the forum — former Maryland state delegate Robin Ficker — said the state must look into a third reactor at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant , located on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
But some Democratic primary contenders took issue with relying too heavily on nuclear energy for the state’s turn to decarbonization. King stated that any exploration of nuclear energy should consider the impact of waste disposal on low income and minority communities throughout the state.
Some candidates agreed that the Chesapeake Bay should be a top priority in their future administrations. Former Anne Arundel County executive and Democratic candidate Laura Neuman said her experience growing up in East Baltimore has made the Chesapeake Bay her top campaign’s climate priority.
Neuman explained that her knowledge of Baltimore would allow her to meet low-income communities in the area where they are transitioning towards clean energy and promote environmental justice.
“In my earlier days I was much more focused on choosing between eating, shelter and gas than realizing we even had the Chesapeake Bay,” Neuman said. “It’s really easy to say this is what you will do, but we also don’t recognize that we all don’t start from the same place.”
The candidates also discussed ways to promote sustainable transportation infrastructure, such as the revival and expansion of the Red Line rail line. The plan would have created a Baltimore east-west mass transportation light rail line. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan abandoned the project in 2015.
“What Governor Hogan did to the red line … was a sledgehammer to the people of Baltimore City,” said former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler — who is running for the Democratic nomination.
Gansler stressed the need for state-level action to promote public transit, including the expansion and maintenance of MARC and Metro services.
Many gubernatorial candidates were unable to attend the forum. Daniel Cox and Kelly Schulz — two Republican candidates — declined the invitation to the event. Rushern Baker III, Democrat was unable to attend the forum. Democratic candidate and state comptroller Peter Franchot did not attend Tuesday’s event at this university but will attend a corresponding climate forum Wednesday at Goucher College.