After opposing a similar bill last year, the Ehrlich administration said yesterday that it will support legislation to reduce air pollution as long as it does not limit global warming gases and isn't too strict about mercury emissions.
But a lead sponsor of the Healthy Air Act, state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, said he would not accept amendments to weaken the bill from an administration that was "shameful" in lobbying with the power industry to kill the legislation last spring.
"We are not dropping the carbon dioxide limits as the administration wants," said Pinsky, a Democrat from Prince George's County. "If we don't do something about carbon dioxide, the Eastern Shore will be under water in 100 years because of global warming and sea level rise."
The proposal, which last year was called the "four pollutants" bill, would reduce mercury pollution from Maryland's seven largest coal-fired power plants by 90 percent by 2010, and it would cut three other pollutants by lesser amounts. Adding pollution-control equipment could cost power companies $2 billion, according to the bill's proponents.
The Maryland Department of the Environment fought the legislation during the 2004 General Assembly session but released proposed regulations last month designed to limit air pollution. The rules cover fewer pollutants and power plants than the Pinsky bill.
During a hearing of the Senate Education Health and Environment Committee yesterday, the department offered seven proposed amendments to Pinsky's bill to make it match the administration's regulations.
Tad Aburn, new director of air regulation for MDE, suggested changes to the Healthy Air Act that would exempt a power plant in Western Maryland, slow mercury reductions and grant more flexibility for smaller power plants.
"We do think that global warming is an important issue, but it's something that should be addressed at the national and international level," Aburn said. State restrictions on carbon dioxide "could lead to plant shutdowns and brownouts and blackouts."
The Healthy Air Act has 97 co-sponsors, including 22 senators. In addition to requiring mercury reductions from power plants, it would require an 83 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide by 2010, an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions by 2015 and a 10 percent cut in carbon dioxide by 2018.
Testifying in favor of the bill yesterday were representatives of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the University of Maryland School of Nursing. They argued the limits would prevent asthma attacks, deaths from soot pollution and brain damage to infants from mercury.
Those against the legislation included the Constellation and Mirant power companies. They said the restrictions would cause rate increases, blackouts and power plant closures.
"You will greatly increase the cost of power ... [and] clients like mine will go to China and India," said Michael Powell, a lobbyist for several industries. "We think this is bad mistake."