ANNAPOLIS – Duron Paints and Wall Coverings, headquartered in Beltsville, is weighing expansion sites – in Beltsville, Atlanta or elsewhere.
Duron President Richard Feinberg said the decision is complicated by a lot of factors, including Maryland’s lengthy permitting process.
“Maryland is very tough on manufacturing of all kinds,” he said. The strict standards “may or may not be good for the environment,” he added, but clearly “make it difficult for companies to run the gauntlet.”
Duron and other business advocates claim that whenever Maryland agencies adopt regulations stricter than federal standards, the state’s economy loses.
On the other side are environmental advocates, arguing that Maryland’s unique natural resources require unique regulations. They also say proposals to alter the regulatory process would in fact add more red tape.
Legislators have introduced a series of bills this session that would give lawmakers greater control over rule makers.
The first two are identical bills in the House and Senate prohibiting the Secretary of the Environment from adopting any regulation more stringent than the federal standard, unless the benefit clearly exceeds the economic impact.
Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said he sponsored the bill out of concern for Maryland’s business climate. “Regulations in Maryland are often too aggressive, or adversarial,” he said. “We’re losing thousands of jobs.”
Manufacturing jobs account for 7 percent of Maryland’s total employment, compared to 18 percent to 20 percent nationwide, Stoltzfus said. The legislation, he added, would allow Maryland to better compete with neighboring states with less stringent environmental regulations.
Carolyn Burridge, lobbyist for the Chemical Industries Council, said that “although no one law has put anyone out of business, Maryland’s propensity to propose stricter standards makes it very hard for businesses to stay.”
In Duron’s case, Feinberg said the situation is not forcing the company’s expansion decision — at least not yet. In one instance, he said, the Department of Environment even negotiated fairer emissions regulations with the firm.
“The state of Maryland operated beautifully, applied the facts, and we were both satisfied,” he said.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening called for a balance between environmental and business goals in his State of the State address in January. He has supported legislation that would streamline regulations to ease the bureaucratic burden on business.
But Glendening also said he disagreed with “those few voices in the business community who insist that states cannot adopt regulations more stringent than the federal government.”
For sponsors of the pro-business bills, the exception is when benefits outweigh a regulaton’s cost. But critics argue that some benefits have no calculable value.
Rick Collins, director of waste management for the Department of the Environment, argued that the Chesapeake Bay merits Maryland’s tougher regulations. He also said assessing the benefit and cost of a regulation is difficult.
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, asked, for example, how the benefit of bay-supported industries like commercial fishing and tourism could be measured. He also said the bills were unclear about who would assess the benefit and cost of regulations.
Tom Grasso, acting executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the federal standards are “meant to be the lowest common denominator, the states are meant to adapt their own specific regulations.”
Grasso cited Maryland’s critical area law, which calls for monitoring and protecting land around the bay and its tributaries. The protections do not exist in federal law.
Requiring approval from the General Assembly to make stricter regulations would also “add another layer of red tape,” Grasso said. “If a problem develops with wetlands, for example, would we be able to deal with it efficiently and effectively?” he asked.
Beyond the Stoltzfus bill and its House counterpart, two similar bills have been introduced. One would prohibit stricter rules unless the agency finds a “compelling public interest” in surpassing federal standards. Another would require public hearings before the stricter regulations could be adopted.
Other legislation being considered would:
– Require the state to compensate landowners if any law, regulation or government action reduces property values by 25 percent or $10,000, whichever is smaller.
– Create a joint House-Senate Committee capable of vetoing state regulations.
– Require regulators to give 30 days notice of upcoming rules and consult with legislative committees before adopting them. – Protect business from being cited for violations if the company reports problems to the state voluntarily and promptly, and can show that the discosure is voluntary. -30-