ANNAPOLIS — The Senate Finance Committee may have thought it was in the clear Friday when it passed a bill opening Maryland’s electric market to competition, but Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment said Monday that the Senate bill falls short on protecting air and water quality.
The committee’s amendments “are not enough to ensure that Maryland’s environment is protected against degradation from electricity restructuring,” wrote Jane Nishida, environment secretary, to the committee.
In her letter to Finance Committee Chairman Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore County — who sponsored the bill with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s — Nishida suggested that imposing an environmental surcharge would strengthen the bill, something Gov. Parris N. Glendening would support.
In an interview Tuesday, Nishida could not provide details about the surcharge, but said it’s something she wants to work on with the legislature.
“Under restructuring there may be more problems with air pollution and we want to ensure that dirtier power from elsewhere does not undermine Maryland’s efforts to attain clean air,” she said.
The Senate committee is on the right track with its environmental provisions, Nishida said, but more work needs to be done.
Throughout the deregulation debate, Glendening has said that any legislation must provide a rate cut for consumers — he has called for a 7.5 percent reduction — and at the same time protect the environment.
“He believes we can include environmental protections, so that people that produce dirty power…couldn’t come in and sell power cheaper,” said Ray Feldmann, the governor’s press secretary. “In his mind, the bill clearly needs more work….on some of the environmental protections.”
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, representatives from the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters said that deregulation would foster the use of cheaper energy from coal- fired power plants — plants that cause higher pollution because they are older and run less efficiently.
“This bill rushes into deregulation at the expense of Maryland’s environment,” said Nancy Davis, president of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, in a prepared statement. “This deregulation bill turns back the clock on cleaning up our air and the bay.”
Davis said the league endorsed nearly half of the senators in the General Assembly and would be lobbying them to make amendments to the bill on the floor of the Senate chambers or to vote against it.