Delay in pollutant ban likely

Governor supports bill allowing phosphorous

May 08, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun Reporter

Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he is inclined to sign legislation delaying a statewide ban on dishwasher detergent containing polluting phosphorus and that he still is weighing whether to veto a bill ensuring that fruity alcoholic drinks known as "alcopops" continue to be taxed and distributed the same way as beer.

The General Assembly approved both bills during its recently concluded session. O'Malley, a Democrat, has received a number of veto requests and letters in support of the alcopops bill, which he pulled at the last minute from a batch of bills he signed last month. The governor also received a request to veto the detergent bill from Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The detergent bill pushes back implementation of a planned ban on nearly all phosphorus in detergents by six months, to July 2010, in response to complaints from companies including Procter & Gamble that say they won't have enough time to make production changes. Frosh argued that the delay would lead to an additional 7.5 tons of phosphorus polluting the Chesapeake Bay through sewers and other avenues.

But O'Malley, speaking on WTOP-FM yesterday, said that the delay seemed reasonable. Several states have passed a phosphorus ban, and all but Maryland made their bans effective in July 2010.

"The way that some would look at it is that they've been doing it for so long, we should put an immediate stop to it," O'Malley said on the station's Ask the Governor program. "The way others would look at it is that after changing their practices and changing their products, that a six-month accommodation is not unreasonable, and I tend to come down on that side of that argument."

Deciding whether to veto the alcopops bill has proved more difficult, the governor said. O'Malley has said in recent days that opponents should have been more vocal during the legislative session and expressed surprise that the bill made it through the legislature this year, noting that it often takes several years for a proposal to become law in Annapolis.

"I'm not sure that this got the consideration that it should have received in the General Assembly," O'Malley said. "I'm trying to give it that consideration and play catch up on the back end here, so I'm still looking at it."

The bill, backed by alcohol manufacturers and distributors, would overrule an opinion from Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler classifying fruity alcoholic beverages such as Mike's Hard Lemonade as liquor. Previously, they had been taxed and distributed as if they were beer. Gansler argued that the drinks should be classified as spirits under the law because of the way they are made and because of evidence they are popular among teenagers.

Under the bill, the drinks would continue to be taxed at lower rates, as they have been for decades, and enjoy wider distribution.

Gansler testified against the bill, and he and public health advocates launched a campaign against it in the final days of the session, at one point holding a rally outside the State House. Groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving met last month with O'Malley to argue that the drinks are marketed to underage drinkers, an accusation the manufacturers deny.

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