Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Democrat of Prince George's County, introduced an amendment to weaken the Global Warming Solutions Act.

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The Maryland Senate today severely weakened a bill designed to reduce global warming pollution in the state.

An amendment approved by a vote of 27-20 would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to jump through several more hoops before it imposes any rules to cut greenhouse gases.  Every time the MDE wanted to limit the pollution through regulations, the agency would have to win another vote by the General Assembly. That's a difficult, multi-step process that could easily be derailed by industry lobbyists who oppose the limits, supporters of the bill argue.

On the other hand, skeptics contend the state's environmental bureaucracy shouldn't be trusted in such an uncharted territory as regulating carbon dioxide. They say industries could be bankrupted if the MDE acted too aggressively -- and so more legislative oversight of the environmental agency is necessary. Jobs and businesses are at stake in a time of economic turmoil, the supporters of more restraint in dealing with global warming suggest.

Actually, this was the second time the Global Warming Solutions Act was watered down. The first time, the O'Malley administration endorsed a change. The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky of Prince George's County, mandated that greenhouse gases be cut by 90 percent from all businesses in the state by 2050; but this was amended to make this a purely advisory goal.  The bill kept a mandated 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. But today's amendment  hampers the state environmental agency's ability to create rules to actually cut the pollution by even that 25 percent.

A final vote in the Senate could come today or Monday, with a vote in the House following.  On the House side, sponsor Del. Kumar Barve said he hopes to save the bill by adding another amendment that would make it easier for the state's environmental agency to create regulations to cut greenhouse gas pollution.

Today's amendment was one of several measures sought by industry groups that opposed the bill, fearing it could mean higher prices for high-pollution fuels like coal and oil. The amendment was introduced by state Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's County Democrat. And it was backed by all 14 Republicans in the senate, as well as 13 Democrats.

Among those supporting the weakening of the bill were Baltimore city Democrats, including Senators Nathaniel McFadden, Catherine Pugh, George Della and Verna Jones.

Sen. Della said he's been hearing from voters worried losing their jobs at brick manufacturing businesses, the Domino's sugar plant and the state's only steel and paper factories. He said the MDE hadn't done enough to communicate with businesses and explain to them what regulations they might face -- and that just talking to industry lobbyist Michael Powell wasn't enough.

"If Maryland is going to step forward and be in the forefront, we have to partner with these
businesses and we can't be heavy handed," said Della.

Sen. George Della

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden said he wants legislative oversight of the MDE to prevent any mistakes in imposing new greenhouse gas regulations. McFadden said he didn't want global warming regulations to go as badly as electric utility deregulation passed by the legislature in the late 1990's
 "That whole deregulation thing blew up in our face, and people came back and pointed
the finger at us legislators," said McFadden. "We need to have some oversight, in terms of what we do moving forward."

Sen. McFadden

Sen. Pugh said earlier this week that she had "some concerns" about the bill because of its potential to hurt industries and jobs.  "Some amendments have been offered by industry, which are concerned" they couldn't reach the goals in law, she said.

Sen. Catherine Pugh

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Sen. Pinsky, the Prince George's Democrat who sponsored the bill, objected that requiring the legislature to approve MDE's plans at every stage would "emasculate" the state regulators. For other air pollution control programs already run by the MDE, it's normal for the agency to issue regulations -- for example, on ground level ozone or mercury -- that do not require General Assembly approval.

Sen. Paul Pinsky

Pinsky said that, even before the amendment, his bill already allowed for delaying action if it might cost jobs or drive businesses out of state. A prior amendment required the MDE to delay action until lawmakers had a chance to review its plans.

Sen. Charles M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, agreed that the amendment represented "micromanaging" MDE.  "We are the legislature. If we don't like what they do, we can change it," he said.

Liz Nelson of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters said today's amendment "certainly weakens the bill...It sets the targets without allowing the agency to be able to do what they need to do to get to the targets."

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat with the Sparrows Point steel mill in his district, said he worried that if the bill passes, it could complicate efforts to sell the struggling plant. That could put its remaining 2,500 employees out of work, he argued.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, joined Stone in seeking the amendment.  She argued that "many, many scientists" do not agree that human activities are contributing to global warming.  "With the economy the way it is, we need to be protecting the economy just as much as we are the environment," she said.

But Pinsky pointed out that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agreed that action was needed to reduce greenhouse gases.  He said he and others preferred a nationwide response to the threat, but the Bush administration has dragged its feet, so state action is needed until the federal government acts.

Kim Coble, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called the Exum amendment "harmful" to the effort to curb greenhouse gases. "What the legislature voted on today was to strip MDE of its responsibilities, in many ways, by giving the legislature the responsibility of approving actions and programs that would normally be digested and approved by MDE.  It makes you wonder what's next."

Here's a list of the state senators who supported the weakening of the Global Warming Solutions Act:

Brinkley - R

Colburn - R

Currie - D

DeGrange - D

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Della - D

Dyson - D

Edwards - R

Exum - D

Forehand - D

Glassman - R

Greenip - R

Haines - R

Harris - R

Jacobs - R

Jones - D

Kelley - D

Kittleman - R

Klausmeier - D

Kramer - D

McFadden - D

Mooney - R

Munson - R

Pipkin - R

Pugh - D

Simonaire - R

Stofltzus - R

Stone - D

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Here's a list of the state senators who opposed the weakening of the bill:

Miller - D

Astle - D

Brochin - D

Conway - D

Frosh - D

Garagiola - D

Gladden - D

Harrington - D

Kasemeyer - D

King - D

Lenett - D

Madaleno - D

Middleton - D

Muse - D

Peters - D

Pinsky - D

Raskin - D

Robey - D

Rosapepe - D

Zirkin - D

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