House passes bill to rein environmental legislation Proponents pleased

foe cites 'chilling effect'

February 21, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Environmentalists suffered a major setback yesterday as the Maryland House of Delegates passed legislation that opponents say will make it difficult to enact state regulations that are stricter than federal standards.

By a margin of 82-53, the House approved the measure, which state businesses have labeled a priority during the current 90-day legislative session.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who pushed to win passage for the bill, called it "efficient regulatory reform."

"All the bill says is, bureaucrats: Think before you act," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, the Hagerstown Democrat who is one of the measure's co-sponsors. "Consider what you're doing and see if you're going to have an impact that merits the imposition."

The bill would prohibit any regulation that goes beyond federal rules, unless a state agency could show a public need for doing so.

The agency would have to, for example, analyze the impact that the regulation would have on "the competitive position of businesses in the state," and determine the extra cost that the stiffer regulation would impose on Maryland companies.

"We've got to balance the concern of industry as well as the concerns of the environment," said Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Carroll/Howard County Republican.

Opponents contended, though, that the bill would make it all but impossible for the state to set standards that go beyond the federal government's.

"It certainly does have a chilling effect on Maryland's ability to make decisions that are unique," said Del. Leon G. Billings, a Montgomery Democrat. Other delegates said the bill is contrary to one of the guiding principles of the Republican-controlled Congress -- giving states more authority.

"Why do we want to give that up and tie ourselves to the benchmark of federal regulation?" said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The Senate will begin considering a similar piece of legislation this week.

The House-passed bill has the same goal as an executive order signed earlier this month by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Lawmakers said it was necessary to pass legislation to ensure that the changes in Maryland's regulatory scheme would remain in place even if the governor lifted the executive order.

While the governor supports the bill's goal of more business-friendly regulation, he opposes a section of the bill that adds another layer of legislative oversight of regulations deemed to exceed federal standards, according to Bonnie A. Kirkland, the governor's chief lobbyist.

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