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Gov. Martin O'Malley told a congressional panel Thursday that global warming threatens the Chesapeake Bay, and criticized a decision by the EPA to block Maryland and 14 other states from imposing new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

"This is really about a much larger issue," O'Malley told lawmakers: "Whether or not we are willing to make choices and create policies that promote sustainability, enhance our quality of life and protect the natural environment that we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren."

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The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is investigating the decision of EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson last month to deny permission to California to begin enforcing the new emissions standards.

"There is perhaps no better place to discuss these issues than in a major city" – Washington – "lying in a watershed that drains into the Chesapeake Bay," O'Malley told the panel. "The Bay is so much a part of the fabric of my state that many say it is its very heart and soul.

"Unfortunately, it is a soul that is burdened, even tortured, by a series of poor policy choices."

Alone among the states, California may develop its own air-quality rules, subject to federal approval. Once the EPA approves a so-called California waiver, other states may enforce the same standards. Maryland has joined New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and other states in adopting the new emissions limits.

Johnson told lawmakers he believes greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. But because climate change poses a global, not local, threat, he said, California did not face the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" that would have allowed him to sign off on the rules.

"While many urged me to approve or deny the California waiver request, I am bound by the criteria in the Clean Air Act, not peoples opinions," Johnson said.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called the ruling "wrong-headed."

"Maryland's Clean Cars program would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 7.7 million metric tons by 2025," the Maryland Democrat said. "EPA's denial of this waiver will result in tons of additional greenhouse gases polluting the region. That's unacceptable to me and to the citizens of my state and it certainly should be unacceptable to EPA."

Cardin and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski have co-sponsored legislation introduced by Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer that would allow the states to begin enforcing the new rules without EPA approval.

"I firmly support the responsibility of federal agencies to take appropriate regulatory actions without congressional interference," Cardin said. "But when federal agencies ignore their own scientists and legal experts, legislative intervention becomes necessary."

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