LETTER: Healthy Air Act will be Good for Health of Marylanders


As you prepare for your 4th of July holiday. It is a great day to celebrate our Nation’s birthday. you might not be thinking too much about Maryland government. But it’s important to know that a slew of bills passed during the 2006 General Assembly Session are set to go into effect on July 1. I have written to you about many of them in the past few weeks.

One bill that received overwhelming bi-partisan support that I was proud to co-sponsor was the Maryland Healthy Air Act of 2006. This legislation, Senate Bill 154, was signed by the Governor.

As many of you know, incidents of cancer in Maryland are some of the highest in the nation. In fact, cancer rates in Southern Maryland are some of the highest in the state. Other ailments attributed to unhealthy air such as asthma and emphysema are also prevalent across the state. As a cancer survivor myself, I believe this legislation to clean up our air was overdue.

According Senate Bill 154's fiscal note, the legislation establishes specified limits on the emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury from specified electric generating facilities in the State of Maryland. The bill also addresses carbon dioxide emissions by requiring the Governor to include the State in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Affected facilities must submit annual reports to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Public Service Commission (PSC). The Maryland Department of the Environment must adopt regulations to implement the bill by June 30, 2007. The bill also provides penalty provisions for plants who do not comply.

Health Risks Associated with Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides, Carbon Dioxide and Mercury are staggering.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Sulfur Dioxide “can cause respiratory illness, cause temporary breathing difficulty for people with asthma, and aggravate existing heart disease. When mixed with other chemicals in the air, it can cause increased respiratory disease, difficulty breathing and premature death.

Nitrogen Oxides “lead to smog, which damages lung tissue and reduces lung function. It mixes with other chemicals to form tiny particles that damage lung tissue, can cause or worsen respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis, aggravate existing heart disease and lead to premature death.

Carbon Dioxide “can accelerate the spread of infectious disease.

Mercury “accumulates in the tissues of aquatic life; when ingested, it can cause increased risk of cancer, damage to the developing nervous system of fetuses causing disabilities in children, gastrointestinal illness and even death in individuals in children, gastrointestinal illness, and even death in individuals with comprised immune systems. Mercury does not break down in the environment.

Not only will this bill save lives, it will help out the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries such as the Potomac and Patuxent rivers because many of these pollutants also seep into those waterways.

Virtually every environmental and health group either testified on behalf of the bill or submitted written testimony in support. The only people who fought the bill were the energy companies that are making money hand over fists. They complained the bill would cause them undue financial burden to clean up the mess they are making. That argument didn’t pass the legislative laugh test.

I am pleased that we were able to work with the governor on a bi-partisan basis to pass a comprehensive bill that protects the health of all of us, our air and our waterways.

Maryland State Senator Roy P. Dyson (D-29)
Great Mills, MD

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