Capital Notebook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Both houses focus on pollution issues

Proposals to reduce air pollution in Maryland took center stage in Annapolis yesterday, with senators debating a resolution to support a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and other lawmakers - including U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest - arguing that the state should enact tough rules of its own.

The debate in the Senate centered on a proposed resolution supporting a lawsuit by 15 other states that is aimed at overturning rules announced by the Bush administration last year to exempt coal-fired power plants from tougher mercury-pollution controls.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. wanted to join the lawsuit, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. blocked him last summer. The Senate resolution wouldn't overturn Ehrlich's decision but would signal that the legislature disagrees with him, said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The Republican leader, Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus of the Eastern Shore, said the legislature should think carefully about the potential cost to industry before going on record supporting legal action.

"I would say there would be a very significant fiscal impact ... if we were to join this lawsuit and follow it through to the end," he said.

The resolution received preliminary Senate approval yesterday and is subject to a final vote in the House of Delegates.

Yesterday afternoon, the House Economic Matters Committee heard testimony on a bill to require stricter standards for emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and mercury.

Gilchrest said the bill would improve Marylanders' health and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

"It's a health issue, it's a science issue, it's a Chesapeake Bay issue, it's an economic issue," Gilchrest said.

This year, Ehrlich endorsed new limits on power plant emissions that do not go as far as the legislation.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who is running for governor, testified in support of the bill, saying the federal government has fallen down in its duty to protect the environment, leaving states to make up the difference.

"It's time for Marylanders to show leadership when it comes to air quality," Duncan said.

Representatives of the state's heavy manufacturers and other businesses testified against the bill, saying higher standards for Maryland would hurt the economy. They said the proposed rules would make little difference in Maryland's environment because much of the air pollution affecting the state comes from elsewhere.

Andrew A. Green

Court gives immigrant youths chance to obtain health care

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals adopted a procedure yesterday for 13 immigrant children to obtain health care while courts continue to deliberate a lawsuit alleging that the state discriminated against noncitizens by cutting their health benefits.

The development is the latest chapter in a legal struggle between advocates for the immigrant families and the Ehrlich administration. In July, Ehrlich angered the advocates and some lawmakers when he suspended a $7 million Medicaid benefit covering about 4,000 legal permanent resident children and pregnant women.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge sided with the immigrant families, ordering the administration to cover their health care costs dating to last summer. Two weeks ago, the Court of Special Appeals stayed that order pending a full trial. Oral arguments are expected this spring.

The Court of Special Appeals said yesterday that it would order the restoration of coverage if the plaintiffs could prove to the court that they need medical treatment and qualify for the benefit.

Attorneys for the children said they plan to immediately acquire affidavits to prove that the plaintiffs need care.

"We're happy the court established this mechanism that will allow the children to obtain the health care they desperately need," said Regan Bailey, a Legal Aid attorney representing the children.

Kelly Brewington

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