By ERICH WAGNER
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 27, 2009)—An unlikely coalition of state environmentalists and manufacturers has formed in support of a bill that would reduce Maryland's greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.
Last year, a similar proposal failed after labor and industry leaders opposed it, concerned that the plan would hurt manufacturing in the state. Since then, lawmakers and environmentalists have worked to make the bill more business friendly, gaining the support of manufacturers.
The bill, heard Friday in a joint hearing of the House Environmental Matters Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee, would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to present a plan to reach the 25 percent reduction in 2011. And by 2016, the General Assembly would review the state's progress and make necessary adjustments.
Politicians, environmentalists and industry representatives all harked on the consensus built in reworking last year's bill. House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said the realization that manufacturing doesn't have a very large effect on greenhouse gas emissions made it possible to reduce emissions 25 percent from 2006 levels and protect Maryland's manufacturing industry at the same time.
The bill now exempts manufacturers from new state regulations on greenhouse gas emissions so that they may remain competitive with industries in other states.
"The most effective way to reduce climate change and also to keep money in our pockets is use energy much more efficiently," Barve said.
Shari Wilson, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, echoed the sentiment, saying that manufacturing only represents 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to regulate manufacturing is at the federal level through a cap and trade program, she said.
Michael Powell, a representative for the Maryland Industrial and Technology Alliance, said this year's version of the bill corrects the competitive disadvantage that the original legislation would have put on industry.
"This bill is a good bill for the state of Maryland, and a good bill for businesses," Powell said.
But Powell warned that substantive changes to the bill could destroy the coalition built among environmental groups, labor unions and businesses.
Frank Heintz, former CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., supported the bill, but acknowledged that energy prices would rise if the bill were to pass.
"The cost of generating electrical power will go up as we address issues of global climate change, but already that is happening," Heintz said. "But that upward pressure [of rising prices] is part of finding ways to be much more efficient."
House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell, R-Calvert, remained concerned about the bill's effect on energy prices.
"Well, my constituents tell me their usage has gone down and their bills have gone up," O'Donnell said. "And they're just a little bit cold."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.