Group raises concerns about carbon dioxide

Coal emissions cause global warming, it says

industry says switching to natural gas would hurt the poor


Carbon dioxide pouring out of the smokestacks of Maryland's coal-fired power plants contributes to global warming and sea level rise that washes away 260 acres of coastal land around the Chesapeake Bay each year, an environmental group said in a report released yesterday.

To highlight the dangers of rising sea levels, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, held a news conference with other organizations in Baltimore's waterfront Fells Point neighborhood, which suffered severe flooding during Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003.

"Climate change is going to be our primary public health threat this century," said Dr. Cindy Parker, an instructor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "The sea is expected to rise up to 3 feet over the next 100 years, and growing storm surges are a big concern, as we saw with Isabel's damage."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun misstated the amount of carbon dioxide produced by Maryland's seven oldest coal-fired power plants in 2004. It was 23.1 million metric tons. The Sun regrets the error.

While the federal government and the Ehrlich administration have declined to take action against global warming, the Maryland legislature should act in the session that opens next month by passing a bill that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 10 percent by 2018, said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, staff attorney for MaryPIRG.

"Maryland should be embarrassed that while our neighboring states are moving forward to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we are standing on the sidelines," said Bevan-Dangel, referring to a coalition of seven states from Maine to Delaware that this month pledged to reduce global warming gases by 10 percent.

Bevan-Dangel said Maryland would find it "easy" to achieve this goal, by fining power plants that exceed this cap and creating financial incentives for businesses and homes to switch to more energy-efficient buildings and appliances.

The Ehrlich administration and the power industry have vigorously opposed limits on carbon dioxide, arguing that they might drive electricity prices up and force the closure of coal-fired power plants and perhaps cause blackouts. Record profits of power companies in Maryland and elsewhere have led some environmentalists to question these dire predictions.

Rob Gould, spokesman for Constellation Energy, which owns 10 power plants in Maryland and may soon be acquired by a Florida power company, said no filters or other known pollution-control technology can remove carbon dioxide gas from the emissions of coal-fired power plants.

"The only alternative would be switching from coal to natural gas, and with that, a higher price comes along with it," Gould said.

Frank Maisano, lobbyist for a coalition of power companies called the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said that shifting away from cheap coal would hurt poor people who can't afford electricity rate increases.

"Environmentalists always say it's easy because they don't operate power plants and they don't know how much things cost," Maisano said.

The report by the MaryPIRG Foundation, "Power Plants and Global Warming," said that carbon dioxide gases released from industry and other sources are contributing to rising temperatures, which are melting ice caps and glaciers, driving up sea levels around the world.

The flooding of 260 acres a year around the Chesapeake Bay is caused in part because the land on parts of the Eastern Shore is sinking, the report said.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 31 percent, according to the report. Maryland's seven oldest coal-fired power plants produce about 31 percent of the state's emissions of carbon dioxide and released 23.1 metric tons in 2004.

The average daily temperature at monitoring stations in College Park has increased by 2.4 degrees over the last century, and those temperatures are projected to rise by another 2 to 9 degrees by 2100, according to the report, which compiled data from previously published studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other research groups.

The rising temperatures could increase rainfall by 20 percent, increase concentrations of smog, encourage the reproduction of disease-carrying mosquitos and hurt crop production for Maryland's $1.3 billion agricultural industry, the study said.

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