ANNAPOLIS – Legislators reintroduced House and Senate bills to toughen regulation of the state’s seven coal power plants on Thursday, this time with increased backing by environmental groups and more support from Democrats, many of whom are unhappy with a less stringent policy proposed by the Ehrlich administration.
The Healthy Air Act, which failed to make it through the Legislature last year amidst concerns over its perceived economic effect on Maryland electric utilities, was presented along with a study by Maryland Public Interest Research Group saying the state has the tenth highest levels of soot pollution in the nation.
“It’s like the FRAM oil filter ad: ‘pay me now or pay me later,'” said Delegate James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, chief sponsor of the House bill. “We can put $15 dollars in now to replace the oil filter and be a little more progressive toward protecting and cleaning up the environment, or we can spend $15,000 later when we blow the engine.”
The legislation comes three days after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced $144.5 million in spending on environmental projects, and eight days after he unveiled his Clean Power Rule policy.
The Healthy Air Act, commonly known as ‘The 4 Ps Act’ proposes reducing emissions of four of the most serious pollutants released by all seven coal power plants: carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen.
The bill is sponsored by 25 senators and 75 delegates, and has the support of organizations such as the 22-group Maryland Healthy Air Coalition, the Maryland Nurses Association, and the National Wildlife Federation.
The Ehrlich administration’s proposed Clean Power Rule Policy is less stringent, exempting the state’s three smallest coal power plants from the regulations and failing to impose new carbon dioxide emission regulations, two issues which concern many environmentalists.
“The Healthy Air Act would wreak havoc on Maryland’s energy supplies.” Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, said. “If the Healthy Air Act passed it would likely lead to the closure of some of our power plants and that would potentially lead to rolling brownouts and blackouts across the state.”
Officials of the state’s major utility, Constellation Energy, told the Associated Press that the firm has not had time to review the bill, but generally opposes state-by-state pollution rules.
The Healthy Air Act also requires Ehrlich to either include the state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a compact signed by seven Northeastern states last month to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 10 percent carbon, or achieve that goal on its own, by 2019. The regional initiative, which was signed last month, also established a “cap-and-trade” program which allows power plants to trade emissions allowances so that reduction can be done most cost-effectively MaryPIRG’s “Plagued By Pollution” study focused on negative health and environmental effects of smog pollution, 77 percent of which they say comes from the state’s seven aging coal power plants, and is being used to bolster the case for the more strict proposal. State Director of MaryPIRG Brad Heavner directly connected 700 deaths and 17,000 asthma attacks yearly in the region affected by the state’s seven coal power plants to coal power plant’s carbon emissions which he said could be reduced 95 by percent by installing ‘scrubbers’, which are currently required by new coal power plants.