Panel kills bill to fight warming

General Assembly

April 08, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler and Laura Smitherman | Timothy B. Wheeler and Laura Smitherman,SUN REPORTERS

A bill that would have committed Maryland to fight global warming died in a House committee last night after lobbying from industry and from factory workers fearful for their jobs.

The Economic Matters Committee voted against the measure, which had been endorsed by Gov. Martin O'Malley and had passed the Senate, albeit in a weakened form.

The bill would have mandated a 25 percent reduction by 2020 in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which scientific authorities say are warming the climate. It also would have set a goal of curbing emissions 90 percent by 2050.

O'Malley said he was disappointed that the bill failed, but "glad we had the debate." He predicted that the bill would be back.

"Unfortunately, global warming is not going away," he said.

The bill passed the Senate more than two weeks ago, but with an amendment sought by labor and industry that would have required the state Department of the Environment to get legislative approval for any regulations it created to achieve the reductions. The bill then bogged down in the House committee, as environmentalists and opponents jockeyed over more changes to the bill.

Dozens of members of the United Steelworkers union, which represents about 5,000 workers statewide, arrived in Annapolis yesterday, many of them wearing T-shirts that said in green lettering: "Save our jobs."

"We're willing to pay our dues," said one worker, Tony Juarascio. "But this should not be forced upon us. We have to make sure that jobs don't go to other states or other countries."

Del. Kumar P. Barve, the House majority leader and a co-sponsor of the bill, said labor's opposition doomed the measure. But he contended that opponents' fears were groundless, as state efforts to reduce greenhouse gases would have focused elsewhere. Manufacturing is only a small portion of the state's economy.

Brad Heavner, director of Environment Maryland, said proponents had offered last-minute language assuring that regulators would adopt no rules affecting steel or paper mills, brick and cement kilns or other factories if such actions might risk the loss of jobs at those facilities.

Some legislators said they ran out of time to deal with such a complicated, controversial issue.

"We tried, but it was just too much," said Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George's County Democrat who is chairman of the Economic Matters panel.

But O'Malley said all was not lost, because many of the energy conservation provisions in other legislation that did pass should help the state reach the 2020 goal in the failed bill.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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