House panel kills 2 environmental bills

Legislation is part of governor's initiative

March 13, 2002|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A House of Delegates committee voted yesterday to kill two of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's environmental bills, including legislation to significantly increase fines for water pollution.

The same committee could defeat another Glendening priority -- increased fines for air polluters -- as early as today if it is not amended.

The committee vote occurred after a flurry of lobbying by the administration to try to salvage the bills, which the governor hoped would add to his record of environmental protection.

But Del. John Adams Hurson, chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee, rebuked Glendening before yesterday's vote, scolding him for introducing the bills without discussing them with legislative leaders.

"The administration never spoke with me," said Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat. "They never spoke with the members of the committee or the leadership. Let's be honest, I don't think they cared about the bills. I think they thought it would be clear sailing."

When a delegate asked if he would have a different position on the bills had Glendening contacted him, Hurson responded, "I would have at least looked at them."

Only four delegates on the 22-member committee voted for the bill that would have increased by up to tenfold the state's fines on water polluters. The bill was designed to bring Maryland's fines in line with those imposed by neighboring states

Companies in Maryland that illegally discharge pollutants into water can be fined up to $1,000 a day, but not more than a total of $50,000.

Glendening proposed increasing that fine to $10,000 a day, with no maximum limit -- the same fine charged in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Similar increases were proposed for other water pollution violations.

The second bill killed yesterday would have established a $1 per ton fee on garbage disposal companies, with the money used to create a fund to promote recycling. The bill also would have given the state Department of the Environment more authority to clean up illegal garbage dumps. Only one delegate voted for that bill.

Corporate interests, farmers and some legislative leaders criticized the bills as hidden tax increases that could harm the economy. "I think legislators see the governor's environmental package as so overreaching in its attempts to protect the environment that it damages our business climate," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

But Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill said the committee killed the legislation because of pressure from corporate lobbyists. "The bill was to raise penalties for those who pollute the water, so by killing the bill you are making it cheaper for people to pollute our waters," Morrill said.

Several of Glendening's other environmental priorities, including a proposal aimed at protecting coastal bays by limiting waterfront development, continue to wind through the legislative process. But the governor's proposal for stiffer air pollution fines could face similar committee opposition.

Morrill refused to comment on Hurson's criticism of Glendening, who had hoped the new chairman would be more friendly to his environmental initiatives. Under former chairman Ron Guns -- whom Glendening appointed to the Public Service Commission -- the committee was a frequent obstacle to environmental bills.

Hurson said he met with the Glendening in July and was told about much of the governor's environmental agenda, except for the bills dealing with increased fines and fees.

"Frankly, I think they were a pile-on," he said.

Morrill said the governor still believes Hurson will be more receptive to his environmental agenda than Guns.

"We've got other bills moving through the committee, and they are moving through just fine," Morrill said. "But those other bills are not being lobbied by people spreading misinformation."

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