Juan Alvarado, the gas industry official that Gov. Wes Moore (D) picked last week to serve on the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), has withdrawn his nomination.
In a statement released Tuesday morning by Moore’s office, Alvarado said he was withdrawing for “personal reasons.”
But Alvarado’s nomination was controversial from the start — largely due to his association with the natural gas industry at a time when state leaders are trying to move policy away from fossil fuels. Lawmakers, environmentalists and community leaders in Silver Spring were also scrutinizing Alvarado’s record as a staffer at the PSC, particularly probing what the agency did before and after a 2016 natural gas explosion at an apartment complex in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring that killed seven people and injured dozens of others.
Sen. Will Smith (D-Montgomery), a member of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, which was slated to consider Alvarado’s selection in the weeks ahead, planned to put a hold on the nomination. He represents Long Branch, a community with a large immigrant population.
In his statement, Alvarado, the senior director of energy analysis at the American Gas Association in Washington, D.C., expressed his commitment to fighting climate change.
“I was honored to be nominated for the Public Service Commission,” he said. “My 12 years of service to Maryland as a member of that institution gave me the highest reverence for the work it does each and every day to address climate change, improve service to ratepayers, and ensure families have access to reliable telecommunications, gas, and electricity.
“Climate change is the fight of our lives, and I believe that we have real and substantive challenges to meet Maryland’s goals while ensuring continuous and equitable service at fair rates. Those challenges mean all stakeholders need to be at the table executing the state’s vision towards a sustainable future.”
The PSC is a five-member body that regulates electric, gas and certain water utilities in the state. It has increasingly become an important vehicle for addressing climate change in the state, and policy and regulatory debates at the commission are frequently contentious.
Shortly after taking office, Moore rescinded two recess appointments to the PSC that his predecessor, former Gov. Larry Hogan (R), made last summer, and on top of that, the term of the current PSC chair, Jason Stanek, is due to expire on June 30 — giving Moore a prime opportunity to recast the commission.
Moore on Feb. 17 nominated Alvarado to serve on the PSC and Fred Hoover, a former director of the Maryland Energy Administration, to be PSC chair.
Alvarado isn’t the first of Moore’s high-profile nominations to run aground. Earlier this month, Charles “Chip” Stewart, his nominee to serve as director of the state’s information technology officer, withdrew amid criticism of his handling of a cyber attack on the Maryland Department of Health during the Hogan administration.
Alvarado’s nomination drew criticism and bewilderment from environmental groups, which have high hopes for the new governor’s commitment to fighting climate change. Several leaders of green groups said they were not consulted about Moore’s PSC nominees. But they hope to be moving forward.
“We look forward to working with Governor Moore and [Appointments] Secretary [Tisha] Edwards to ensure the PSC is ready to advance the governor’s bold climate agenda,” said Josh Tulkin, Maryland director of the Sierra Club.
In a statement Tuesday, Moore reiterated that his administration “is fully committed to achieving Maryland’s bold and necessary climate, energy, and resilience goals.”
“I want to thank Juan Alvarado for raising his hand to serve our state as a member of the Public Service Commission,” Moore said. “Juan shares our conviction that addressing climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and his deep understanding of the Public Service Commission was knowledge that would have served Maryland well. I understand this was a difficult decision for Juan, but respect his decision to withdraw from the confirmation process.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) told reporters Tuesday that he wasn’t sure how Alvarado would have fared had he gone through the Senate confirmation process, since he hadn’t appeared before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Ferguson said PSC members are going to have to balance the state’s ambitious climate goals with the need to protect consumers from high costs.
“I think the appropriate PSC members moving forward, whomever it is, the ones that are still under consideration, and additional vacancies, have to be willing to listen to all sides of the issue to be able to make the best decision for the long term future of the state, recognizing the costs that come along with it,” he said.
This story has been updated to include quotes from Senate President Bill Ferguson and the leader of the Sierra Club. Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.
By Josh Kurtz