In a victory for environmentalists, a Senate committee yesterday killed a bill that would have sharply restricted the state's ability to enact regulations that go beyond federal rules.
The measure, which had already passed the House of Delegates, was needed to make the state more competitive for attracting and retaining employers, business leaders said.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican, would have all but prohibited the state from enacting regulations that are stricter than federal rules, environmentalists said.
It also ceded too much of the state's authority to Congress, opponents said.
"I don't think we should be looking to Newt Gingrich to determine to what extent we protect Maryland's environment or protect Maryland consumers," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who voted against the measure.
The bill died on a vote of 4 to 7.
"The committee missed an opportunity to send a clear signal that Maryland is being cautious about exceeding federal standards," said Champe C. McCulloch, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "And that they understand that competitiveness is an issue."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening issued an executive order earlier this year that does much of what the bill would have accomplished. But business groups pressed for the legislation to ensure that the provisions would stay in effect even if the executive order were rescinded.
The business community did win a victory of its own yesterday when another Senate committee approved a measure to grant polluting companies some immunity if they voluntarily perform environmental audits and report any violations to state authorities.
Companies that performed an audit and addressed any violations would receive immunity from civil and administrative penalties.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups have fought the bill, saying it would actually encourage polluters to ignore violations until it became financially advantageous to perform an audit.
The measure, whose chief sponsor is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., was approved by the Judicial Proceedings Committee and goes to the full Senate for consideration. A similar measure is pending in a House of Delegates committee.
Pub Date: 3/15/96