Md. climate bill seen likely to pass

Plan to reduce greenhouse gases 25% by 2020 has backing of O'Malley, last year's opponents

January 24, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,

Legislation that would commit Maryland to reducing climate-warming pollution 25 percent by 2020 appears likely to pass this year with Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement yesterday that he would co-sponsor a compromise bill that has won backing from organized labor, industry and environmentalists.

The governor backed similar legislation last year, but opposition from the state's unions and manufacturers killed it in the House after it had passed the Senate in watered-down form.

"For our prosperity, for our current and future generations, and for the health of our state, which is so vulnerable to rising sea levels, we must take action on climate change now - not later," the governor said in a statement. "Maryland can't afford to be left behind."

The bill O'Malley is pushing is a carefully crafted compromise worked out in recent weeks among proponents and opponents of last year's legislation. It would commit the state to achieving a 25 percent reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases - mainly carbon dioxide - by 2020. The state would have until 2012 to develop a plan for reaching the goal.

But in deference to manufacturers and labor leaders, the bill says the state's plan must ensure that no manufacturing jobs would be lost, and it essentially exempts industry from state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions until 2016.

Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson said proponents did not see that as a major concession because manufacturing accounts for only about 4 percent of all the greenhouse gases released in the state. Electricity generation and transportation are far bigger sources of carbon dioxide, which is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

Maryland's industrial plants might still face regulation sooner if it comes from the federal government, or from some multistate agreement to address climate change. With President Barack Obama in favor of federal action, Congress is expected to take it up this year.

The compromise bill also would require a report to the General Assembly by 2015 on how the state greenhouse-gas reductions are going. Lawmakers would then have to vote the following year to continue the effort, or it would expire.

If the bill passes, Maryland would join a handful of other states that have pledged to reduce climate-warming pollution on their own. The governor's announcement was applauded by all sides in last year's dispute. Jim Strong of the United Steelworkers union called it a "balanced bill" that protects his members. Michael Powell, a lawyer for the state's manufacturers, said his clients were comfortable with the bill's provisions that the Maryland program could be adjusted or even junked if it appeared to be hurting the state's industrial sector.

But Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said he is confident that the national and international momentum to reduce greenhouse gases will be so strong by 2016 that there will be no turning back.

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