Maryland rejects pollution accord

Ehrlich administration shuns seven-state pact on global warming

December 21, 2005|By TOM PELTON | TOM PELTON,SUN REPORTER

Seven Northeastern states agreed yesterday to take steps to limit pollutants that cause global warming, but Maryland officials declined, saying they wanted to avoid hurting power plants or raising electricity rates.

The governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont signed an agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 10 percent by 2019.

In the face of federal inaction, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the first attempt by a coalition of U.S. states to tackle the problem of global warming, which many scientists say is melting polar ice caps and causing rising sea levels.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island dropped out of the group at the last minute, with officials expressing fears about an increase in electricity costs.

The administration of Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said it was not participating for similar reasons, as well as concerns about the possible closure of power plants.

"It's easy for these states up in New England to sign on. They don't have the coal-fired power plants we do," said state Environmental Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. "We are not going to do something that is going to be injurious to the citizens of Maryland, cost them more money or cause rolling brownouts or blackouts."

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative creates a "cap and trade" system that will force power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions or buy pollution credits from cleaner power plants.

New York officials predict that the emission controls will raise electricity rates by $3 to $24 per year per household, starting in 2015. That year, carbon dioxide reductions will start to be required, rising 2.5 percent per year for four years.

Advocates for the pollution limits say predictions of blackouts are off base, because the energy industry is enjoying record-breaking profits and can afford to shift from coal to alternative fuels.

Brad Heavner, executive director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said the Maryland Department of Environment has adopted the identical position as the power industry.

He said it is not a coincidence, because half of the top officials appointed by the Ehrlich administration to run the state agency formerly worked for Constellation Energy, the state's largest owner of power plants.

These MDE officials worked closely with their former employer this spring to lobby against an air pollution bill that would have limited carbon dioxide emissions, The Sun reported Sunday.

"We've heard the exact same things from the power companies, the same mistruths, the same rubbish," Heavner said. "Yes, these limits would cost the power companies money, so you would expect them to oppose it. But would you expect our environmental agency to oppose it? No, because it's a clear winner for the environment and economy."

Although Maryland has often worked with Northeastern states to fight air pollution, the Ehrlich administration refused last spring to join a similar group suing the Bush administration over exemptions for power plants from strict mercury pollution rules.

In the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, at least 25 percent of the money generated by the buying and selling of the pollution credits will be used to encourage businesses and families to buy more efficient machinery, buildings and appliances, said Peter Constantakes, spokesman for New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican. This increased efficiency will help offset higher electricity costs, he said.

The funds will also provide grants to encourage alternative energies, such as solar and wind power. And some older power plants likely will shift from coal to natural gas, said Constantakes.

New York has coal-fired power plants, and it does not expect any shutdowns or blackouts, Constantakes said.

New Jersey's acting governor, Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, said in a written statement that the agreement by the seven states is historic and will advance efforts to combat global warming.

"In the absence of federal leadership, these states have come together to take real steps to cut carbon dioxide," Codey said.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, backed out of the greenhouse gas agreement recently because of concerns about rising electricity rates, said spokesman Corbie Kiernan.

"The agreement would have added costs to Massachusetts electric bills, which are already the highest in the nation," Kiernan said.

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