Is Garbage the New Green? Anybody out there want to buy “clean energy” produced by garbage incineration? Can you see any of our business customers putting up a banner at their store saying, “100% powered by garbage burning?” The answers to those questions in the real world of the free market would be “no” and “no.” But in the bizaro land that Annapolis can sometimes be, a majority of our political leaders voted FOR a bill to include garbage incineration as a clean, renewable energy resource along with wind and solar and voted AGAINST requiring the utilities to support offshore wind power. I guess in Annapolis, garbage is the new “green.”
The Maryland General Assembly’s 2011 Session is thankfully over. They can’t do any more damage. But let’s see what they did manage to accomplish in their three months of work. Check out this year’s list of bills that made it or got killed, followed by my own “Thanks” and “Spanks” for some of our elected officials. It’s a long blog, but worth the read, trust me.
Bills – Good News
Pepco… errr, “utility” reliability standards (HB 391/SB 692) The General Assembly passed a bill to require our state’s utilities to meet certain reasonable standards for service and power reliability or face penalties. The bill was a priority of the Governor’s and was supported by the Montgomery County delegation. Once implemented, this bill will hopefully put Pepco at the top of the nation in terms of service to its customers, instead of near the bottom where it appears to have been comfortably ensconced for years.
Consumer Choice Education - This bill requires that Maryland create a web site to provide consumers more information about customer electricity choice and direct them to the various options they have. It works well in other states, such as Pennsylvania, where consumers have more information available at their fingertips. An educated consumer is the best thing for the electricity market, as that will discourage some of these multi-level marketers and others who offer shady deals on “variable” pricing and make specious claims about supporting green power.
Electric Vehicles The Governor put forth several bills to start Maryland on the extremely important path of building an infrastructure for electric vehicles. As these vehicles become more available, states will be competing for the jobs associated with the industry, and building the consumer base that the market needs. Governor O’Malley’s bills put Maryland ahead of other states in starting to formulate the rules we need to build a strong electric vehicle market here.
Solar Thermal RECs This bill allows solar thermal heating systems to qualify for the state’s Solar Renewable Portfolio Standard. In plain English, it means that residents and businesses will be able to get solar thermal systems (to replace nat gas water heating, for example) at significantly reduced costs. It will lead to large growth in the solar thermal industry, bringing more green jobs and economic activity to Maryland.
Benefit LLC Last year, Maryland become one of the first state’s in the nation to legally recognized the designation of “Benefit Corp” for corporations that put sustainability and transparency into their operating documents and register with the state. It’s a way for companies that really walk the green walk to distinguish their operations from the companies that just talk green, or do it as a marketing ploy. But the legislature forgot to include LLC’s, a fairly common form of business in the state, as part of this designation. Now, they have corrected this mistake and opened the doors for “Benefit LLCs.” You can bet that a certain local green energy company you know will be the first to achieve this designation when the law goes into effect on June 1st!
Bills – Bad News
Garbage Burning - In one of the wackier moves I’ve seen in my 11 years following the Maryland General Assembly, our elected leaders reversed their 2004 vote on the state’s clean energy standard and decided that garbage burning is actually clean and renewable after all. What new information caused our legislators to wake up and change their mind? Nothing. The situation is exactly the same as it was back in 2004. Garbage is still garbage. The environmental community was uniformly opposed, as it was back in 2004. The garbage incinerators in Maryland are still operating just as they were in 2004. The only seeming difference between now and 2004 is that the leadership of the House and Senate (and the Governor’s office) all pushed hard for classifying garbage as green, whereas in 2004 they didn’t. Also, legislators saw this bill as a quick way to bilk ratepayers of some money that could be sent to counties that run these plants (ie. a tax that nobody will know about). The other difference – in 2004 all the usual good environmental champions in the legislature stood firmly against garbage burning, whereas this year some of them went over to the other side (see “garbage gang” below). So, the bill will charge us ratepayers to put money in the owners of garbage incinerators in Maryland (plants that don’t need our money). This makes any claim by lawmakers who oppose the offshore wind bill on the grounds of “protecting ratepayers” extremely specious.
Offshore Wind This bill was a top priority of Governor O’Malley, supported by environmentalists, labor, and progressive businesses like Clean Currents. Still, the legislature didn’t pass it. The big argument appeared to be concern about cost to ratepayers, certainly a legitimate issue to discuss. But even when the Governor agreed to cap the cost to ratepayers, legislators didn’t budge. When faced with putting the cost of garbage incineration on ratepayers, our elected leaders had no problem voting yes. When asked to do the same for wind, they said no. Hmmmm…..
Renewable Energy Surcharge This was a bill that would have funded the Maryland Clean Energy Center, protected people already buying clean energy, and funded our efficiency, solar, wind, and geothermal programs. It was structured in a way that would have meant most residential ratepayers would pay no surcharge at all. It was killed because our elected leaders said they were going to vote for the offshore wind bill and didn’t want to vote for two charges in one year. Yeah, that worked out just like they told us it would!
Two Year Moratorium on Fracking in the Marcellus Shale- In the irony department - the weekend the New York Times and Washington Post run stories about a new report that says natural gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale and elsewhere is actually worse from a climate change perspective than coal power, the Maryland Senate killed a bill that would have required a couple of years of study on the environmental impact of fracking in Maryland. The House had passed the measure already. It would seem that this new study would give Senators pause to think maybe a couple of years more study is warranted. Not in Annapolis world, I guess.
Delegate Derrick Davis – this is a mild “thanks.” The Chairman of the House Economic Matters actually did kill several good clean energy bills, and pushed hard for the “garbage is green” bill, but his strong support for offshore wind outweighs that. He just needs to get a little more decisive and move quicker next time, to enable advocates to round up the votes they need in the Senate for good bills.
Delegate Tom Hucker – He was the point man on the offshore wind bill in Economic Matters and the only Montgomery County delegate on the committee with the courage to vote against the “garbage is green” bill in committee.
Governor Martin O’Malley – He showed great leadership on offshore wind and pushed hard. He also put forth several good proposals on electric vehicles, which passed.
Delegate Heather Mizeur – This Montgomery County Delegate has already been a great force for more open government and now she’s taking on important environmental issues like natural gas fracking in the Marcellus Shale. Her leadership was strong.
Delegate Brian McHale – Of all people, Delegate McHale should have know better than to be the chief sponsor of the “garbage is green” bill. He was there in 2004 and knew how controversial this bill was. After implying to folks that he was just going through the motions on putting the bill in, he fought hard for it and is largely responsible for its passage.
Sen. Mac Middleton – The chief sponsor of the “garbage is green” bill in the Senate, Middleton is also in the category of “should have known better.” Not only did he support the bill, he did something I never saw in my 11 years in Annapolis. He fast tracked the bill. In fact, he had his committee vote on the bill the same day it was heard and immediately brought it to the Senate floor before anyone had a time to do outreach about it. He also gave short thrift to the renewable energy surcharge.
Delegate Ben Kramer – A disappointing start to his second term as a Delegate. Ben launched his first campaign for office prominently featuring him and his family in Chesapeake Bay settings, talking about his love for the environment. Yet this session he consistently remained unsympathetic to environmentally related bills. On offshore wind, he refused to come out for the bill, despite the many emails and calls he got from his constituents (including your’s truly). He supported the “garbage is green” bill, where he didn’t seem to mind giving ratepayer money for garbage incineration. Yet on offshore wind, he dismissed facts and arguments in favor of the bill while highlighting arguments against the bill. That doesn’t sound like a champion for protecting the Chesapeake. Let’s hope next year goes a little better.
Sen. EJ Pipkin – The Wall Street trader- turned politician has been consistent in his opposition to clean energy bills and his constant attack on customer choice for electricity. He is among the most powerful anti-clean energy forces in the Senate because of his position on the Finance Committee and his single-minded doggedness in fighting clean power.
The Garbage Gang
Finally, here are some of the legislators that want to sell you on “garbage is green.” Some of these folks come from very environmentally conscious districts. Some were endorsed by enviro groups, and even had enviro advocates actively campaign for them. Yet, when the garbage hit the fan, these people were all too willing to ignore their allies and vote for garbage power. This is not a comprehensive list. Just a few of the highlighted members of the garbage gang.
The House Garbage Gang: Del. Brian Feldman, Del. Cathy Dumais, Del. Anne Kaiser, Del. Charles Barkley, Del. Aruna Miller, Del. Brian McHale
The Senate Garbage Gang: Sen. Rob Garagiola (the only Senator from Montgomery County who voted for this controversial bill), Sen. Catherine Pugh, Sen. Anthony Muse, Sen. Jim Mathias, and Sen. Ulysses Currie.
The conclusion from all this is that we cannot ever take anything for granted. Concerned citizens have to constantly keep on top of their legislators to keep them honest.