ANNAPOLIS — Several Democratic legislators are joining environmental activists in arguing for immediate action in the General Assembly on tougher sanctions for air pollution from power plants and motor vehicles.
Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, and Sens. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, and Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, are introducing legislation requiring power plants to clean up their act.
Frosh said the most difficult part of enforcing the changes would be increasing the funding so that the Maryland Department of the Environment can fix broken air quality monitors and increase oversight.
“If the governor doesn’t put the money in the budget, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Frosh said.
Air pollution has serious health consequences, he said, including asthma, lung disease, heart attacks and even learning disabilities caused by the release of mercury when coal is burned for power.
“Industry always waves around the cost of compliance, but the cost of non-compliance is much greater. However it’s paid by different people, and you can’t directly attribute a given ER visit to (nitrogen oxides) from a particular power plant,” Frosh said.
“Three Maryland power plants are among the nation’s top 50 in increases in (sulfur dioxide) emissions from 1995 to 2003,” said Pinsky, speaking at a news conference Wednesday sponsored by Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
The state’s seven most outdated plants generate 86 percent of Maryland’s smog (nitrogen oxides) and soot (sulfur oxides) pollution, he said. Those pollutants hurt not just people, but the environment and the economy, including the Chesapeake Bay and its fishery industry.
The state would have to step in where the federal government had failed to act and set standards that would get older power plants to meet the pollution requirements of newer plants, Pinsky said.
“They’ll have to retrofit, maybe even rebuild. It won’t be cheap, but it’s attainable by 2015, maybe 2010.”
Gina Angiola, an obstetrician and environmental activist at the news conference, said that 45 percent of the mercury in Chesapeake Bay fish comes from power plants, and that 16 percent of women of childbearing age are being poisoned by this mercury.
Global warming brought about in part by increased carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, would mean more mosquito-borne diseases and also more smog, increasing lung disease, she said.
“U.S. Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) tells people to take personal responsibility by not smoking and not eating fatty foods, but nowhere does he mention the corporate contribution to health problems,” Angiola said.
“Talk about malpractice,” said Angiola. “Who is being held accountable here?”
Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, will move against motor vehicle pollution.
“Manufacturers of cars don’t want any controls whatsoever. That way they can continue to be irresponsible, selling bigger and more costly and more polluting automobiles such as Hummers . . . without any concern for people and the environment,” said Grosfeld.
As the public clamors for more energy efficient vehicles, she said, the auto industry continues to produce flashy, polluting cars and taxpayers continue to be forced to pay for health care for children and adults affected by that pollution, Grosfeld said.
Pete Ternes, spokesman for Hummer, said Hummer sales were only 0.1 percent of all auto sales and so had a negligible effect on air pollution.
“Using Hummer as an example is just a way to get attention,” he said.
Steven Arabia, spokesman for Mirant Mid-Atlantic, which has three power plants in Maryland and one in Alexandria, said he thought the legislators were well-intentioned, “but until they sit down with us, most folks can not fathom the enormity of the cost of these proposals, which will have relatively little effect on us.”
There have to be regional agreements on air quality, Arabia said. Changing one state’s laws governing power plant pollution will have little effect.