Md. nears regaining role lost to EPA

State Senate enacts bill to comply with federal requirements

Governor to sign it

February 16, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The state Senate gave final approval yesterday to a bill expanding a citizen's right to challenge air pollution permits in court, clearing the way for Maryland to regain its right to regulate emissions.

The unanimous vote sends the bill to the governor, who has made it one of his priorities for the legislative session.

In December, the federal government took away Maryland's power to issue air pollution permits under its own rules because the General Assembly failed to enact such legislation as required under the Clean Air Act.

The move shifted regulatory authority from the Maryland Department of the Environment in Baltimore to the Environmental Protection Agency office in Philadelphia.

The newly passed legislation gives any person potentially affected by the issuance of a pollution permit the legal standing to sue.

Under current law, the right is restricted to adjacent property owners. Passage of the bill will also free up about $4.5 million in federal enforcement money that was being withheld from the state.

The bill is the product of a compromise reached last year by environmental and business groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1,000 Friends of Maryland on one side and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the chemical industry on the other.

Business lobbyists bushwhacked similar legislation last year when they persuaded former House Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Ronald A. Guns to tie the who-can-sue issue to the elimination of contested hearings in other pollution-related cases. That move created an impasse that led to the federal takeover.

When Guns left the Assembly last summer to take a job on the Public Service Commission, Del. John A. Hurson took over the chairmanship and began leaning on both sides to reach a compromise on the issues.

Theresa Pierno, the bay foundation's Maryland executive director, said that after resolving the issue of standing to sue, environmentalists and business also struck a deal on contested hearings. A bill reflecting that deal was recently introduced.

"We came to a compromise that we think works very well for the environmental community," she said.

Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the environmental-business accords should be a prototype for resolving disputes.

"Rather than fighting in the halls of Annapolis, they're sitting down and working together," he said. "It makes for better policy."

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a leading environmental advocate, said business gained little from its efforts last year.

"There were some folks who opposed the department bill last year who realized they were worse off without it," the Montgomery County Democrat explained.

"It doesn't make any sense to run up to Philadelphia to get a permit issued," Frosh said.

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