ANNAPOLIS – Although sponsors in both the House and the Senate pushed for stronger controls on air pollution from power plants and vehicles in a series of bills, all failed to pass this session.
“‘We wuz robbed,’ to quote Yogi Berra,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, in a recent interview.
Just before the session ended last Monday, Pinsky said he had been ready to present a bill, SB 744, placing tougher limits on power plant emissions to the Senate, where he said he thought he had the votes to pass it, only to have the issue quashed after a House committee voted down a similar bill, HB 1169.
The House committee acted under industry pressure, he said.
The tougher controls would be a serious blow to financially troubled Mirant, the power company in the district of Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, one of the most outspoken opponents of the bill.
Middleton argued that most air pollution comes into Maryland from power plants in Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest, citing as proof that air quality in Maryland improved sharply when a blackout several years ago shut down many power plants in the Northeast.
“Pollution is a difficult issue. (Controls are) costly to power plants, but the pollution is even costlier to the public in terms of the air they breathe, the water they swim in, the fish they eat,” Pinsky said.
Smog is a perennial problem in urban Maryland in the summer when sunlight and nitrogen oxide and volatile organic chemicals from vehicle emissions react to form ozone, which can aggravate breathing problems, according to research cited by MaryPIRG and other consumer groups.
Maryland is already being sued for what several consumer and environmental groups, including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, and various states’ Public Interest Research Groups call severe violations of Clean Air Act air-quality standards. The groups note that failure to meet clean air standards could cause cuts in federal highway funding.
The proposed state regulations revealed the limits of federal regulations, Pinsky said. Even with full adoption of federal standards for power plant emissions of nitrogen and sulfur, which cause smog and acid rain, Maryland would still not achieve the reduction in pollutants it is required to have by 2015.
Pinsky said the tougher standards advocated in the Senate bill would be more likely to bring air pollution levels into compliance by the deadline.
Legislation to mandate the tough California standards for vehicle emissions rather than the weaker federal standards was introduced by Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, as companion bills SB 366 and HB 564.
The two argued that taxpayers end up paying health care costs for people going to emergency rooms because of pollution, and that the problem will only increase as the area grows and more roads are built.
In hearings on the bills, Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration sided with opponents in the industry who said such standards would increase the cost of vehicles by at least $1,200, and would result in only a very small drop in pollution in future years.
Clean air proponents, including Brad Heavner of MaryPIRG, said that the increased cost was closer to $300, and would result in a much more substantial pollution reduction.
“It’s all related. You can’t just fight pollution piecemeal — air pollution, water pollution, mercury from power plants, run-off from big farm factories causing algae in the bay, impermeable surfaces,” Grosfeld said.
“We really need to be tackling environmental problems with a holistic approach.”
Other pollution-related legislation’s fate:
— Passed and awaiting the governor’s signature – SB 464, which increases energy-efficiency standards for appliances from freezers to ceiling fans.
— Failed – Several bills to clean up the leaking gasoline additive MTBE in Harford County. A measure calling for a study of alternatives passed.
— Passed – Legislation to establish a statewide computer recycling pilot program to be funded by manufacturers’ fees under the Maryland Department of the Environment. But another bill to require manufacturers to make computers easier to disassemble for recycling — as the European Union has mandated — died in committee.
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