ANNAPOLIS – Supporters of one of the most ambitious global warming bills in the country said Tuesday its implementation could motivate other states to follow suit, but opponents argued it would hurt Maryland’s economy while failing to significantly affect the environment.
The Global Warming Solutions Act, which died in committee last year, had its first hearing before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Tuesday.
The bill calls for a 25 percent reduction in 2006 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and a 90 percent reduction by 2050. It has broad support from Democrats, but not Republicans, in both the House and Senate.
Gov. Martin O’Malley gave it his “strong, strong support” in a press conference prior to the hearing,
“Our coastlines are eroding, our planet is warming, and we have to do a better job,” O’Malley said. He acknowledged concerns that Maryland would be unable to meet the goals or to adapt economically.
“We really don’t have a choice,” he said.
The governor created a task force last year to address ways that Maryland could combat climate change. In an interim report last month, the task force recommended legislation reducing greenhouse gases.
In the committee hearing Tuesday, most of the bill’s critics agreed that climate change needs to be addressed, but urged senators to consider the effects that its passage could have on the state’s economy.
“The big thing I’m interested in is that the plant may not survive,” said Ernie Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO Unions, speaking of Mittal Steel’s mill at Sparrows Point. “We’re talking about 2,500 jobs, we’re talking about 2,500 people?I don’t understand all the stuff that was talked about today, all’s I understand is 2,500 people?I’m asking you, please, we do support the concept, but we need some help in maintaining and keeping that plant here in the state of Maryland.”
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, one of the original sponsors, told the steel industry representatives that the bill doesn’t target specific industries. But the men argued that steel mills are large producers of carbon dioxide and would undoubtedly be forced to make reductions if the bill passes.
Supporters touted its ability to lower utility bills for consumers and to create new, “green collar” jobs, including companies specializing in caulking homes for better insulation or the installation of programmable thermostats. They urged the committee to focus on the larger picture.
Terry Tamminen, one of the architects of the California legislation upon which the Maryland version is based, related an anecdote in which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told him that countries like China and India won’t take steps to combat climate change until the United States does. Other countries even look at actions by individual American states.
But opponents scoffed at the notion that implementing tough pollution standards in Maryland will motivate other states and nations to do the same thing, and instead favored legislation at the national level.
“Let me tell you, there is nobody in Beijing sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to see what you’re going to do on this bill so they can copy you,” said Michael Powell, a lobbyist for the Maryland Industrial Technology Alliance. “If you want to urge Congress to pass a bill, we’ll support you. We think it’s a national issue, but don’t do harm here in Maryland.”
Other opponents included the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, members of the brick-producing and supply industry, and utilities like Constellation Energy. The bill also has opponents in the General Assembly, including Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley.
Despite the opposition, Pinsky remained optimistic.
“I think the science and evidence is clear,” he said. “I think we can get it out of the Senate this year. It’s not going to be easy, but I think we can do it.”
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