A coalition of environmental organizations is mounting a last-ditch effort to persuade Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to ignore a plea by The Home Depot Inc. that he veto a bill setting energy-efficiency standards for nine types of appliances sold in Maryland.
The legislation, which supporters contend would save Maryland consumers $600 million in energy costs by 2020, is regarded by conservation advocates as one of their most important achievements of this year's legislative session.
Environmentalists contend that making appliances more energy-efficient helps reduce the emission of pollutants fouling the air and water.
The measure passed the Senate and the House of Delegates with veto-proof majorities, but most Republican legislators opposed it. Ehrlich's office is expected to announce today which bills it will veto.
The bill sets standards for nine categories of appliances that are not covered by federal energy efficiency rules. Home Depot's opposition to the bill involves only one of the appliances: ceiling fans.
The Atlanta-based home-improvement chain hired one of Maryland's top-earning lobbyists, D. Robert Enten, to seek a veto about two weeks after the legislative session ended April 7.
Don Harrison, a Home Depot spokesman, said that with 35 stores and 5,000 employees in Maryland, the company has "a stake in what goes on" in the state.
Harrison said the company is urging a gubernatorial veto because it fears the legislation would limit consumer choice.
He said Home Depot stores already sell several lines of Energy Star efficient ceiling fans, but company officials do not think that should be the only type they sell. (Energy Star is a federal government-backed program promoting energy efficiency.)
"It is a grand idea that a product is energy-efficient, but don't mandate that is the only thing you can buy," Harrison said.
"You can mandate this, but if you want to take this a step forward, let's mandate everyone in Maryland drive electric cars," he said. "You are going to have huge energy savings, but at what cost?"
If signed, he warned, the higher standards would force Home Depot to increase the cost of ceiling fans by $20. "To someone on a fixed or low income, that is an inhibiting factor," he said.
Edward Osann, Maryland representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Home Depot is an "outlier" in a supportive business community.
Osann produced letters showing that Constellation Energy supports the bill, and that the Maryland Retailers Association withdrew its opposition after the bill was amended to deal with the group's concerns.
The final legislation was the product of extended negotiations between environmentalists and business interests, Osann said.
He said that after Home Depot raised objections to the bill in January, his group tried to negotiate but could not get its calls returned.
Osann said that as a result of its negotiations with business groups, the deadline for ceiling fans to meet energy efficiency standards was delayed until 2007. The deadline for eight other types of appliances would be 2005.
Ceiling fans and torchiere lighting fixtures are the only residential appliances covered in the bill, Osann said. The remaining seven appliances affected by the tougher standards include such items as commercial washing machines and retail store refrigerators.
As a result, Osann said, businesses will be the prime beneficiaries of the energy savings anticipated under the bill.
Osann said a decision to sign the bill would be well received by environmental groups, which have been at odds with the Ehrlich administration on other issues. "We will give him a lot of credit for standing up to this kind of misplaced lobbying effort by Home Depot," Osann said.
Some environmentalists are worried that Ehrlich will look unfavorably on the legislation they favor because of their role in blocking Senate confirmation of Lynn Y. Buhl as environmental secretary.
"There could be retaliation for Lynn Buhl, but we hope he sees beyond that," said Gigi Kellett, energy advocate for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said she had no idea how the governor is leaning on the energy bill, but insisted the Buhl vote would not influence Ehrlich's decision.