Despite concerns by some lawmakers that it would raise the cost of electricity as steep rate increases loom, the Senate yesterday passed the Healthy Air Act, a bill that would clamp down on power plant emissions.
After last week's nearly three-hour debate, the Senate approved the bill 33-14. The House of Delegates has not taken up the legislation.
State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Democrat from Prince George's County and the bill's sponsor, said the goal of the legislation, backed strongly by environmentalists, is a healthier Maryland.
"Whether it's heart disease, whether it's lung cancer, whether it's mercury poisoning," he told his colleagues before the vote, "it's because of spewing these chemicals into the air."
But forcing the state's power plants to reduce pollution will cost companies money - costs that the bill's opponents and the power industry say would be passed on to consumers.
Lawmakers in Annapolis have been scrambling for more than a week in an attempt to ward off an expected 72 percent rate increase this summer for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. residential customers.
Some senators argued that the Healthy Air Act would result in even higher electric bills.
"This just makes it worse. It just makes it worse," said Sen. Lowell J. Stoltzfus, a Republican from the Eastern Shore. "And all it does is remove a little bit of [carbon dioxide.]"
The Healthy Air Act, known as the "four pollutants" bill, would require Maryland's seven largest coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
After opposing a similar bill last year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich has proposed similar but less stringent regulations with the Maryland Clean Power Rule. One key difference between the governor's plan and the Senate's is that Ehrlich's does not cover carbon dioxide.
Stolzfus argued that by including carbon dioxide, lawmakers would be increasing the costs for power plants without bettering the global environment all that much - a charge Pinsky called "simply not true."
"How much of the global warming does Maryland effect," Stolzfus asked. "It doesn't make much difference. But it costs our rate payers a lot of money."
But when dealing with air pollution, paying higher bills isn't the only cost people should worry about, said Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat.
"I'd ask you to think about all the extra costs that come with emphysema, lung cancer, asthma," Kelley said. "Costs come in many configurations."