The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a bill today designed to curb the loss of trees in Maryland to development.
By a vote of 121-14, the House passed a Schaefer administration bill that would require developers to replant some trees in exchange for trees they removed. The bill also would mandate the planting of trees on development sites where few or no trees existed initially.
Similar tree legislation failed in the final hours of the General Assembly session last year. Proponents blamed the bill's demise on a last-minute move by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore.
The bill approved by the House today includes amendments that weaken provisions endorsed by the Senate earlier this session.
"I think it's the best compromise that can be achieved," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Eastern Shore, the chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, which passed the bill last week.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which can accept the House version or appoint a conference committee to negotiate a compromise.
Guns expressed surprise that more delegates did not vote against the bill, which has provoked controversy in the more rural areas of the state. "I was anticipating more than 14 votes against it," he said.
A number of delegates who initially had reservations about the bill apparently believed that the amended measure was both realistic and flexible, Guns said.
Opponents had worried that the bill would inhibit development and add to the cost of new homes.
Environmentalists, however, say trees serve an important role in curbing pollution by preventing erosion and filtering the air. They say that a substantial number of Maryland trees have been cut in the past few decades and centuries, contributing to pollution in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.