Smoke alarm

August 25, 2005

NINE NORTHEASTERN states are finalizing a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 10 percent within 15 years. Unfortunately, Maryland is not a party to this. Neighboring Delaware is. So are New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island, all states with Republican governors. These leaders recognize the environmental threat posed by excess carbon dioxide - and understand that the Bush administration isn't about to address global warming, at least not in any serious way. A multistate agreement - one that includes business-friendly cap and trade provisions - could be the first step to a more rational U.S. policy on this pressing issue. Other states, California, Oregon and Washington included, may take similar action soon.

So why not Maryland? It would certainly behoove Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose record on air pollution has been nothing short of abysmal. He has steadfastly opposed efforts to reduce emissions from aging, coal-burning power plants - and not just carbon dioxide but soot and mercury, too. He even ordered Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. not to join in a lawsuit filed by a dozen other states to force the Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on mercury. Instead, he wanted a meeting with EPA officials. The June talk, which neither he nor EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson bothered to attend, was fruitless.

Reducing carbon dioxide would no doubt cost the owners of a few polluting plants. But what about the cost of doing nothing for everyone? It's likely to be global warming, rising sea levels and dramatic climate change. Maryland ranks among the nation's worst states for air quality. If we can't stand up for cleaner air, who will?

Democrats are likely to raise this issue next year. State lawmakers might even pass legislation forcing Mr. Ehrlich to sign on. Yes, it would be better for Washington to set tougher national standards on emissions, not just from power plants but from cars and other sources. But that's not going to happen. It's fallen upon states to set an example; Maryland needs to heed the call.

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