3 environmental groups urge state to fight warming

September 28, 2006|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN REPORTER

Three environmental groups petitioned the Ehrlich administration yesterday to join 10 other states that have created regulations to reduce emissions of global-warming gasses and other pollutants from cars and trucks.

Environment Maryland, the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network held a news conference outside the Baltimore headquarters of the Maryland Department of the Environment - which last year joined car dealers in opposing similar legislation.

"While Washington is sitting on its hands, we have to act now," said Claire Douglass, a coordinator with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "With over 3,000 miles of coastline, Maryland is particularly vulnerable to global warming, which increases the impact of hurricanes."

The rules proposed by the organizations are modeled after limits imposed by California and New England states. They require auto manufacturers to use financial incentives to make sure that at least 10 percent of the new cars they sell in the state are hybrids or other low-emission vehicles.

Hybrid cars emit less carbon dioxide than standard cars, meaning they contribute less to global warming and rising sea levels, said Brad Heavner, executive director of Environment Maryland. These alternative vehicles can cost $3,000 more than other cars, but over time the cost can be offset because they burn less gasoline, he said.

The "Clean Cars Program" would also require car manufacturers to install tighter engine seals and other advanced equipment to reduce emissions of benzene and other toxic pollutants.

Robert Ballinger, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the agency is evaluating the petition. Under the law, citizens can petition the department to create administrative rules as an alternative to a bill passed by the legislature. The MDE has 60 days to respond.

"We are going to ... sit down and review it," Ballinger said. "We are going to make sure that what we are doing is offering quality air to the citizens of Maryland."

In January 2005, agency officials opposed California-style emission limits on vehicles, saying the benefits would be small.

The Ehrlich administration also opposed reductions in global-warming gasses included in the Healthy Air Act, a law passed by the legislature this spring to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants.

"The science is clear," said Betsy Johnson, state chair of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club. "Even people who had previously concluded otherwise are now saying, `Yes, global warming is an issue.' ... It will affect our children, and now we need leadership on this issue."

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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