ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Gov. Martin O'Malley vetoed a 13-month moratorium on building wind turbines within 56 miles of the U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River, saying the bill is unnecessary and would send a chilling message to renewable energy developers.
The bill would have delayed construction on wind turbines to wait for a study on how they could affect radar use around the base. Supporters of the bill argued it was important to consider needs of the base, a big economic engine in southern Maryland. But opponents contended it sent a bad message to businesses and harms wind farm development in Maryland.
"There are already safeguards in place to ensure that no renewable energy projects conflict with military facilities — those safeguards render this bill unnecessary," O'Malley said in a statement.
Opponents of the bill said it would have threatened development of a wind farm in Somerset County due to expiring federal tax credits.
In a letter to House Speaker Michael Busch, O'Malley wrote the bill "would effectively kill a $200 million investment in the county, along with much-needed jobs and local tax revenue, all because of the perceived inconvenience that wind turbines pose to operations at Pax River."
"Ironically, the greater inconvenient truth threatening Pax River — and the billions of dollars of economic activity generated by the facility — is climate change," O'Malley wrote.
The governor also noted that developers of the Great Bay Wind project have engaged in years of painstaking negotiations and played by the rules after investing millions of dollars.
"If this moratorium were to take effect, it would send a chilling message to clean energy investors, developers, manufacturers, construction firms, engineers and sustainable businesses that the state can change the rules at the eleventh hour," O'Malley wrote.
Del. John Bohanan, a St. Mary's County Democrat who supported the bill, said he supports renewable energy, but that the Legislature acted decisively in support of the men and women in uniform at the base.
"I am disappointed by a veto that protects investors from an expiring federal tax credit over the job security concerns of Maryland families who work at Pax River Naval Air Station," Bohanan wrote in a statement.
O'Malley has made environmental issues a top priority of his administration. Last year, he successfully pushed through legislation to create a regulatory framework for offshore wind development.
O'Malley, a term-limited governor who is considering a White House bid in 2016, also noted the project advances three goals of his administration. They are creating jobs, increasing Maryland's renewable generation to 20 percent by 2022 and reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020.
The bill put lawmakers on the Eastern Shore against lawmakers in southern Maryland. It also put O'Malley on the opposite side of the issue than U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, a leading Democrat in Congress whose district includes the base.
Hoyer said in an emailed statement Friday that he was "deeply disappointed" with the veto.
"This veto fails to demonstrate Maryland's strong commitment and support for the mission of Patuxent River Naval Air Station," Hoyer said.
The veto is an unusual one from a Democratic governor who hasn't exercised his veto power very often in the last seven years against legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly.
Lawmakers would need a three-fifths vote in each chamber to override the veto. They would need to petition themselves back into session in order to do that before January. That's because the Legislature can't override a veto during the first year of a new legislative term, since the bill would have been passed by the previous Legislature. All seats in the General Assembly are being decided this election year.
Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for Busch, said in an email that the speaker hasn't spoken yet to leadership or House members about the veto.