Md. Emissions Bill, Considered Flawed but Ambitious, Heads to House

Shari T. Wilson
Shari T. Wilson (Katherine Frey - Twp)
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By David A. Fahrenthold and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 20, 2009

A bill to cut Maryland's greenhouse gas emissions -- on the verge of passage in Annapolis -- would put the hardest decisions off until 2012, make smaller reductions than scientists have called for and exempt the state's entire manufacturing sector from its rules.

But it's enough to make Maryland one of the most ambitious states tackling climate change, environmental experts say.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, is expected to win approval in the House of Delegates next week, and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said it is his top environmental priority. It sets a 2020 deadline for the state to reduce emissions 25 percent below 2006 levels. What it doesn't say is how; the Maryland Department of the Environment would have until 2012 to create that plan.

The proposal was hammered out by environmentalists, industry officials and union leaders with the help of a professional mediator, hired by the state after a more stringent climate bill flamed out last year.

Environmentalists say this year's bill is weaker but more politically palatable. And it would make Maryland one of only eight states to put into law a promise to cut emissions.

"From a climate perspective, could it or should it be more ambitious?" said Matthias Ruth, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. The answer is yes, Ruth said, but "from a political perspective, this is probably as ambitious as you could be."

Maryland, a state with relatively many public-transit options and relatively few industrial smokestacks, is not one of the states with the highest emissions. At last count, it produced about 15 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita, compared with 17 in Virginia and 63 in West Virginia.

But its overall emissions have increased about 19 percent between 1990 and 2005. For three years, environmental advocates have been pushing the legislature to turn that trend around.

They got farthest last year when the Senate passed a bill that set as a goal a 90 percent reduction by 2050. But the state's relatively small manufacturing sector, centered in Baltimore and western Maryland, formed an alliance with labor unions. They charged that the bill would kill 6,000 steel jobs and force factories to move to other states.

They won: The bill failed in a House of Delegates committee.

Before this session, environmentalists and their opponents met with a state-hired "facilitator." The legislation they agreed on, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, has been on greased political rails with the Senate approving it 36 to 9 on March 2.

"This is the best bill that we felt was achievable in Maryland, and we're happy with it," said Mike Tidwell, of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who was involved in the talks that produced the legislation. Tidwell said the bill's most important facet is that it sets a legally binding goal for emissions reductions.

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