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Can Maryland’s New Governor Become a Climate Leader?

With President Biden floundering in the wake of his document scandal, national Democrats found cause to celebrate last week when 44-year-old Democrat Wes Moore became Maryland’s first Black governor. 

It may seem early to speculate about alternate short lists for 2024 but politics can change quickly. And if Biden recovers, Wes Moore has a strong chance of being in the national conversation in 2028 and beyond.   

>>>READ: The Red, White and Blue Wave Election

Wes Moore understands that comparisons to Barack Obama, our first Black president, are unavoidable. I joined DC News Now for its live coverage of Moore’s inauguration where I noted that as a Senate staffer, I worked closely with then-Senator Barack Obama and his team on various bipartisan efforts. Moore can match Obama’s intellect, communication skills and star power (Oprah Winfrey introduced Moore at his inaugural). Yet, Moore can boast a broader frame of reference or experience in diverse fields. Moore commanded troops in Afghanistan, worked as an investment banker and led a major nonprofit. 

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Moore also may prove to be more deft and warmer interpersonally. Obama worked closely with my former boss, the late U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) on government transparency and oversight of Katrina spending, and famously hugged him at his first State of the Union, but he missed big opportunities to subvert our polarized political culture by collaborating with Republicans on tougher issues. Obama admitted he could have done more to reach out during his time as president. 

In his Inaugural speech, Moore worked to strike a balance between acknowledging the historical significance of his election without fixating on the polarizing topic of race. He said: 

[M]y portraits are going to look a little different from the ones we’ve always seen in the capitol. But that’s not the point. This journey has never been about “making history.” It is about marching forward.

Today is not an indictment of the past; it’s a celebration of our future.

If Moore does have national aspirations, he will have to be more than a conventional progressive blue-state politician. Even in Maryland, being a progressive purist is not a recipe for automatic success. Moore will have to reconcile a far-left state legislature (Democrats have a 70 percent majority in the House and Senate) with a more centrist electorate that gave Maryland’s outgoing Republican Governor Larry Hogan a 77 percent approval rating.

One area where Moore can be different and turn aspiration into action is climate and energy issues. 

Wes Moore often talks about being a “data guy” and frames problems in terms of “ecosystems” but on the climate and energy front his policy prescriptions haven’t yet caught up with his rhetorical ambition. Moore’s “whole of government” approach conforms to the top-down command and control left rather than the bottom-up “whole of society” approach where government has a limited rather than primary role. In his inaugural address, Moore said

We are often told climate change is a problem for the future, or something you only have to worry about if you live on farmland or in a flood zone.

But climate change is an existential threat for our entire state, and it is happening now.
Confronting climate change represents another chance for Maryland to lead. We can be a leader in wind technology, in grid electrification, and clean transit.

We will protect our Chesapeake Bay, and address the toxic air pollution that chokes our cities. And we will put Maryland on track to generate 100 percent clean energy by 2035 — creating thousands of jobs in the process.

Clean energy will not just be part of our economy; clean energy will define our economy.

A few reality and “data” checks are in order. First, Maryland could fall into the Atlantic Ocean tomorrow and we would see no discernable difference in global temperatures. The United States only emits about 13 percent of the world’s CO2 (China is the leader at 32 percent). Maryland accounts for just one percent of total U.S. emissions. If the U.S. enacted the Green New Deal tomorrow, global temperatures would fall 0.137 degrees by 2100. If Maryland went “green” the impact would be even smaller. 

Second, any politician who claims to be serious about climate change yet ignores nuclear energy is not serious. Maryland can and should do more to promote grid electrification and help wind and solar achieve their potential (i.e. by streamlining permitting) but it’s dogmatic to ignore the overwhelming advantages of nuclear power. 

>>>READ: The Environmental Benefits of Nuclear Fission

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear uses 31 times less land than solar and 173 less land than wind. With the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) certifying its first Small Modular Reactor (SMR) for the NuScale Power design those efficiencies will only improve. Moore should be competing with every state to make Maryland the national leader in SMR deployment. To do that he will have to confront and overcome the anti-nuclear fanaticism in progressive strongholds like Takoma Park, which has an antiquated 40-year-old anti-nuclear ordinance. He should open opportunities for SMRs all over the state (sign me up for one on my farm) and make it clear that nuclear energy can be one of the best ways to displace less clean forms of energy while increasing supply and lowering costs. After all, nuclear already provides more than a third of the state’s electricity.

Third, and finally, an “all of the above” energy strategy will do far more to achieve Moore’s climate, economic and “environmental justice” goals than the standard “everything but nuclear and fossil fuel” dogma from the progressive left. Making Takoma Park a safe space for nuclear hysteria will force Maryland families and children in Baltimore to pay higher energy bills. How is increasing energy bills for poor people environmental justice? 

I believe Moore means his “Leave No One Behind” slogan. And as a Maryland resident, farmer, and father I’m rooting for his success. But Moore will soon learn that to succeed he’s going to have to leave behind the anti-science dogma and counterfeit compassion of some of his traditional political allies. If Wes Moore puts data over dogma, he’ll help the planet and his politics. 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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