Most Democratic gubernatorial candidates say that they support accelerating Maryland’s transition away from fossil fuels, and some say that they are open to using more controversial renewable sources of energy such as nuclear energy and biogas derived from animal waste in farms to achieve those goals.
Form Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), state Comptroller Peter VR Franchot (D), form Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), form Obama administration staffer Ashwani Jain (D), form Obama Education Secretary John B. King (D), former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez (D), founder of the socialist Bread and Roses Party Jerome Segal (D) each reported in a survey conducted by environmental groups that they support ending all new development of fossil fuel infrastructure in Maryland, including gas hookups to new buildings.
Perennial candidate Robin Ficker, the only Republican candidate for governor who responded to the survey, said that he would only support discontinuing new fossil fuel infrastructure development “if alternatives are available.”
Food & Water Action and Friends of the Earth Action asked candidates running for governor to answer questions about climate change and the food system in a survey disseminated in March. A summary of candidates’ responses was released this week.
Three Democratic gubernatorial candidates — author former non-profit executive Wes Moore, non-profit executive Jon Baron and Ralph Jaffe — and three Republican candidates — Del. Dan Cox, former Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz and Joe Werner — did not respond to the survey, according to the environmental groups.
“Leadership in 2022 must mean taking on the consolidated corporate power of the fossil fuel and factory farming industries and moving our state to real clean energy,” Lily Hawkins, the Maryland organizer for Food & Water Action, said in a statement. “Maryland’s next governor must ban new fossil fuel infrastructure and new factory farms.”
What counts as renewable energy
Most of the survey respondents said they support subsidizing only a specific set of widely agreed upon renewable energy sources: solar, wind and geothermal energy. But other candidates showed support for biogas — gas derived from organic sources such as food waste, animal manure and lawn clippings — and nuclear energy as well.
Franchot said he thinks the state should explore biogas as part of the list of renewable energy sources that get subsidized by the state. “I believe that biomass can thrive in this part of Maryland as it will encourage sustainable farming practices within the agrarian and poultry sectors without imposing a significant cost burden,” he wrote in response to one of the survey questions.
Gansler said he supports nuclear power as a potential renewable energy source, which he said could provide a constant source of electricity that can complement solar and wind energy sources that are more dependent on the weather. Ficker also said he would include nuclear energy as a renewable source.
industrial animal agriculture
All candidates said that they would enforce the Clean Water Act if it was violated by poultry farms, as well as invest in systems to monitor the pollution created by poultry farms.
All candidates except for Jain and Ficker reported that they support enacting a moratorium on new concentrated animal feeding operations and ending subsidies for anaerobic digestion facilities, which are large machines that use microbes to break down organic material into biogas (mostly methane and carbon dioxide), according to the survey results.
However, Jain said that he would increase poultry farm inspections and limit the use of poultry manure, which is nutrient heavy and damaging to waterways.
Supporting food and farm workers
All Democratic candidates who responded to the survey said they support ending minimum wage and paid sick leave exemptions for agricultural workers, and that they favor publicly disclosing COVID-19 cases and deaths by industry.
Ficker recorded his support for disclosing COVID-19 cases and deaths as well as creating enforceable workplace safety standards for farmers during this and future pandemics, but did not support better pay for agricultural workers.
Restricting campaign contributions
Perez and Jain said they have committed to rejecting political campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and large agricultural corporations. Baker and Segal reported they are getting funds through the public financing system, which automatically excludes donations from private industry.
When asked the question, King said that he has made it clear throughout his campaign that he is running on an aggressive climate action plan but did not directly answer yes or no. Ficker answered by saying he is taking “small contributions from individuals.”
Franchot said that although he has shown commitment to addressing climate change, his campaign has not rejected contributions from any particular interest group “because we believe that ALL interest[s] should be represented, even if/when there is disagreement,” he wrote. “Everyone deserves a seat at the table.”
The state’s primary election will take place on July 19, and mail-in ballots are set to go out soon.
The deadline for primary voters to request a mail-in ballot is July 12, and early voting will run from July 7 to July 14, including on Saturday and Sunday.