O'Malley vows to look at BGE rate increase

STATE DIGEST

June 30, 2007

Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged yesterday to keep looking for ways to address rising energy costs, saying state officials will explore how prices are influenced by the relationship between BGE and its parent company, Constellation Energy.

"I intend to do everything I possibly can to get us out of the horrible situation that all consumers, and especially working people and people on fixed incomes, have been left with in the wake of deregulation," O'Malley said on WTOP radio.

O'Malley, who discussed failed efforts to reduce a 70 percent BGE rate increase that fully went into effect this month, also said Maryland might need to revisit its 1999 deregulation law.

"It's a complicated problem. I could not fix it in four months," O'Malley said. "I would have hoped that we would have been able to at least whittle down that 70 percent, but we were not successful in doing this."

O'Malley explained that Maryland's Public Service Commission couldn't do anything to stop the rate increase after conducting a review of possible alternatives. The commission's five members felt constrained by a law from last year's special session that enabled the utility to recover the full amount of energy contracts it had entered into, he said.

The governor then spoke about the effects of deregulation in Maryland. While lawmakers thought deregulation would increase competition and lower prices, it hasn't. Now, energy is sold at market rates in a larger pool, a grid shared by other states where electricity rates were higher than in Maryland.

As a result, Maryland rates "came up to the higher water level that shared in that pool," O'Malley said. O'Malley said the PSC must now examine the relationship between the company that owns the energy, Constellation, and the company that delivers it, BGE.

The governor said it's not right for Baltimore-based Constellation to pull in record profits while consumers "take it on the chin."

"You're right to think that it's not fair and it's not right," O'Malley told a frustrated caller. "It might be legal. We might not have been able to undo it, but it's not fair and it's not right."

Rob Gould, a spokesman for Constellation, said the profits O'Malley spoke of are not coming from BGE but from business conducted "well outside of Maryland." Gould also said the company is committed to taking part in future discussions with the PSC.

"We're very committed to the competitive market model and we're certainly going to be a participant in the dialogue as all of these issues are viewed," Gould said.

Associated Press

Environment

Head picked for bay program

A longtime Maryland Department of the Environment planner has been chosen to lead a new program designed to track the state's progress in restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Susan Battle-McDonald will be director of BayStat effective Aug. 6, Secretary Shari T. Wilson announced yesterday.

Gov. Martin O'Malley created BayStat to evaluate initiatives targeted at improving the health of the bay and to make sure the various programs are operating efficiently. It's modeled after CitiStat, a program he instituted in Baltimore to gage the efficiency of city government.

Battle-McDonald has been MDE's strategic planning coordinator. She was director of the agency's environmental permits service center.

Jill Rosen

Maryland

Jury recommends death penalty

A Delaware jury unanimously recommended the death penalty this week for a man convicted in a shooting rampage in that state and Maryland that left two people dead and four wounded.

Allison Lamont Norman, 25, of Seaford will be sentenced Sept. 28 by Judge T. Henley Graves, who, under Delaware law, must give the jury's recommendation "great weight."

The jury convicted Norman on 10 counts, including first-degree murder in the death of Jamell Weston, 24, of Laurel, in the April 2005 rampage that stretched from Laurel to Salisbury.

Jurors rejected defense arguments that Norman was mentally ill and thought he was protecting children from aliens from outer space when he donned a bulletproof vest, armed himself with a 9 mm handgun and started shooting.

The night before the shootings, Norman saw an episode of The X-Files and became convinced aliens were after children, according to trial testimony.

Friends also testified that after Norman was shot outside a convenience store in October 2004, he became extremely paranoid, carried a gun, regularly wore a bulletproof vest and abused drugs. Prosecutors attributed Norman's bizarre behavior to chronic drug use, not mental illness.

Associated Press

Potomac

Developer threatens lawsuit

A developer is threatening to file a lawsuit challenging a decision that blocks him from cutting down trees along the Potomac River that might affect his allergic children.

The Montgomery County Planning Board voted 5-0 Thursday night to reject Aris Mardirossian's plans for the 3-acre tract near the C&O Canal in Potomac. Mardirossian contends that he can cut the trees under the Americans with Disabilities Act because his two young children are allergic to nuts from the hickory and walnut trees.

"It will be good to go to court," he said after the vote. "This will be good for Montgomery County, so that everybody will understand."

The project is subject to local forest preservation laws, and the planning board had the option of either rejecting the proposal or seeking modifications.

Associated Press

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