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February 02, 2007:
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ANNAPOLIS - Maryland legislators of both parties may not agree on the "political jargon," as one delegate put it, surrounding climate change. But there is a growing consensus that global warming is real, and Maryland should do something to help.
As soon as the Maryland General Assembly convened, before legislators had even given each other pats on the back for their successful campaigns, Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D- Baltimore, strongly encouraged members of the Environmental Matters Committee, of which she is chair, to watch former Vice President Al Gore's celebrated documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth."
To make sure every committee member saw it, she showed the Oscar-nominated documentary again a few days later.
The legislators are not watching the movie to keep up with popular culture. They are drafting and introducing bills aimed at global warming that range from all-encompassing emission reductions to specified sources of pollutants, such as cars.
Although Delegate Paul S. Stull, R-Frederick, says he does not agree with Gore's politics, he does agree with his overall message on the need for cleaner air. Stull wants to encourage use of different types of fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol, which as a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, he is in a position to do.
"I found there to be a lot of political jargon as well as him (Gore) taking shots at the (Bush) administration," said Stull. "I do want to sell it to my colleagues that sooner or later we are going to run out of fossil fuels. If we really want to clean up the air we breathe we are going to need these alternative types of energy."
The House majority leader, Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, is introducing a bill he calls the Global Warming Solutions Act along with Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George's. It would reduce total greenhouse gas emissions - from cars to homes to power plants - to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
"It means we can get no bigger than this, here is the limit," said Barve, raising his hands above his head. "It's like drawing a line in the sand."
McIntosh believes that Barve's bill will go through and has, "some steam behind it."
The bill comes on the heels of a United Nations study released Friday. Scientists concluded that it is at least 90 percent probable humans are the cause of the intense warming over the past century.
Another environmental bill making its way through the legislature is titled the Clean Cars Bill, which requires Maryland to adopt California emission standards -stricter than federal standards. Auto manufacturers are required to have new gas-saving technology in cars by model year 2011 and sell a percentage of low emission cars, such as hybrids.
"Maryland is concerned about global warming, that's why we passed the Healthy Air Act last year and we will start to see the effects of that. We are going further now with the Clean Cars Bill," said Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, a co-sponsor of the bill.
In a hearing last week, representatives from the auto industry as well as environmental organizations came before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to argue their opposing cases. Just two years ago, the same committee rejected similar legislation in a close vote.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, expressed concern for her friend, "a dealer near the Delaware line," who would have trouble selling his more expensive cars - car price is expected to increase by about $1,000 for cars under the California standard - to out of state customers.
Jacobs is among the shrinking group of skeptics who still wonder whether global warming is genuine. "I'm puzzled by what's going on in the Midwest, it seems like a fly in the face of global warming," she said at a recent Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing, referring to the apparent anomaly of blizzards and cold weather in the Midwest.
But increasingly, with a new Democratic governor inclined to support environmental legislation, more and more legislators seem to be in agreement that more and tougher emissions standards are needed.
At a recent Senate hearing, for example, Jamin (Jamie) B. Raskin, D-Montgomery, was critical of the automobile lobbyists, who were raising objections to provisions of the Clean Car bill. Raskin asked if the auto industry had ever been supportive of any type of car legislation - such as the seatbelt or the catalytic converter - and whether senators should take what the auto industry says with, "a grain of salt."
Witnesses who have appeared before Assembly committees so far this session have given the legislators plenty to think about.
At one meeting of the Environmental Matters Committee, C. Richard D'Amato, a former member of the House of Delegates who was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Kyoto convention on global warming, showed slideshow images of melting ice - one of which showed the remains of a man who had been frozen and preserved in a glacier for 5,000 years.
But so much ice that had once been thought permanent has been melting, and at the time of the photograph the body was lying over mossy rocks in a stream of running water. "It isn't a super technology that we don't have, it's a matter of political will to fix this," said D'Amato.
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