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May 29 — Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who developed a strong record of pushing for clean water, clean air and action on climate change while in office, appears to differ from Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton on several key environmental issues but it remains unclear whether he can seize the support of environmental advocates uneasy about her candidacy.
O'Malley, who led Maryland from 2007 through 2015, set aggressive water quality standards to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, aggressively expanded renewable energy development, created a state commission to respond to climate change and sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter by 2020.
The Maryland Democrat has also boosted his national environmental bona fides by opposing the completion of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, condemning a decision from President Barack Obama's administration to allow oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic Coast and voicing strong support for the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon pollution rules for power plants.
Some of his stances leave environmental advocates uneasy, however. O'Malley refused to block plans to export liquefied natural gas from the Cove Point facility in Maryland and allowed hydraulic fracturing operations to go forward in the state, albeit with some of the strictest standards nationally.
O'Malley, who was expected to formally announce his candidacy May 30 in Baltimore, appears to face long odds and an unclear path to the nomination against Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“With O’Malley, I think you have someone who has a strong climate record as an executive who will run as a progressive, but one with real world experience as an executive,” Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network told Bloomberg BNA. “Whether that sets him apart I have no idea.”
Aides close to O'Malley did not respond to requests for comment.
Some environmental groups continue to have reservations about Clinton because they say she has been unclear about her positions on Keystone, fracking and offshore oil and gas drilling. O'Malley has been more direct about his views.
In a February op-ed published in the New York Times, O'Malley called the Obama administration's decision to permit some oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic Coast a “big mistake.”
“The facts support a ban on offshore drilling not only in the wilds of Alaska—as the administration has announced—but also along our densely populated, economically vibrant and environmentally diverse Eastern Seaboard,” O'Malley wrote. “Expanding offshore drilling is irreconcilable with the realities of climate science and irrelevant, at best, to taking advantage of the vast economic opportunities clean energy presents.”
On the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the Maryland governor urged the Senate in the fall of 2014 to vote down legislation designed to immediately approve the project and said the proposed pipeline was irreconcilable with the need to address climate change.
“We need solutions that simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and create jobs,” O'Malley wrote in a November 2014 Facebook post. “I hope the Senate rejects Keystone XL—it's too much carbon dioxide, and not nearly enough jobs.”
O'Malley has also thrown his support behind the EPA's plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's fleet of power plants and said in a September 2013 statement that the regulations would help address the “moral” issue of climate change.
“We are committed to partnering with [Obama] so that together, we can make the better choices these times demand,” O'Malley said. “The President’s plan is a commonsense approach that will protect public health from the impacts of climate change and spur growth by fostering innovation in cleaner energy technologies like wind power and solar.”
O'Malley is already leaning on his environmental protection record in Maryland on his website to highlight his climate-friendly approach to governance.
Under O'Malley's leadership, Maryland set two-year goals for reducing runoff into the Chesapeake Bay's 65,000-square-mile watershed and, so far, has reduced nitrogen loads, phosphorus loads and sediment pollution by 14 percent, 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively, according to O'Malley's site. He also signed legislation in 2008 to boost the Maryland's in-state renewable generation to 20 percent by 2022, among several other accomplishments touted.
He also supported the 2009 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, which required the state to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 below 2006 levels. In November 2014, he issued an executive order calling for the Maryland Commission on Climate Change to develop a plan to cut by 2050 the state's emissions by 80 percent compared to 2006 levels.
Tidwell said O’Malley has a strong environmental protection record as governor—potentially the strongest of any governor in the country—pointing to the 2009 greenhouse gas legislation and the governor's commitment to renewable energy. Ben Schreiber, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Action, also cited O'Malley's support for a wind energy project in the state.
But O'Malley isn't without fault on environmental matters, according to Schreiber. Some of the moves O’Malley touted as successes didn't go far enough, Schrieber said. That includes O’Malley’s actions to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which Schreiber said left the watershed “not that much cleaner” than when O'Malley took office.
O’Malley lost credibility with his silent stance on Cove Point—the liquefied natural gas export terminal in Lusby, Md.—because it proved he either doesn’t understand the magnitude of the “climate crisis” or he isn’t serious about addressing it, Schreiber said.
“Gov. O’Malley talked a good game, but when the rubber met the road, when he was talking about exporting fossil fuels, he sided with the fossil fuel industry,” Schreiber said.
Meanwhile, Tidwell downplayed O’Malley’s role in Cove Point. Environmental groups called for O’Malley to urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an environmental impact statement for the facility; however, O’Malley remained largely silent, Tidwell said.
O’Malley has a “more complicated relationship with fracking,” having said that fracking can be done responsibly, Tidwell said. O'Malley's accompanying proposed rules and recommendations would have been the most stringent in the nation and significantly limited methane emissions associated with the activity, he said.
Despite criticisms from some environmental advocates, O'Malley drew strong support overall from the advocacy community.
“He was really instrumental in an number of climate change laws,” Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters told Bloomberg BNA. “He definitely made climate change a priority, and I think it became a passion of his.”
Raettig noted there were areas of legitimate criticism for O'Malley's actions on the environment but said overall he had a “very good record” during his time as governor. She noted her organization gave O'Malley a Climate Visionary Award in 2013.
Chris Warren, spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, told Bloomberg BNA O'Malley would bring a similar approach to environmental and energy issues as Obama.
“Martin O’Malley walks in lockstep with the national environmental lobby and the Obama administration in pushing extreme carbon dioxide regulations that impose severe economic burdens on American families and do nothing to reduce global temperatures,” Warren said. “O'Malley claims to be a man of the people, but in reality he's just a lackey of the left.”
According to Schreiber, when comparing the current candidates for the Democratic nomination, Sanders clearly has the strongest climate record and O’Malley is closer to Clinton than to Sanders.
Tidwell said that while Sanders would be a “true climate champion,” O’Malley probably would be “as aggressive” as Sanders on the climate front.
“Look, Bernie Sanders would be a great president in terms of climate change,” Tidwell said. “Whether Bernie Sanders is electable, I don’t know.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
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