Gov. Martin O'Malley and legislative leaders signed a series of bills yesterday designed to protect Maryland's environment - including a "clean cars" law that requires Maryland to adopt tougher emissions standards.
In this year's General Assembly session, when attempts to tackle some costly issues failed amid concerns about the state budget, environmental proposals gained widespread and often bipartisan support. O'Malley said the success of the legislation is evidence of the long-standing consensus in Maryland behind environmental protection.
"Without a divisive debate ... a lot of this slipped through without a lot of attention," O'Malley said. "I'm inclined to veto all of these so we can go back and pass them all over again because it felt so good."
The highest-profile environmental bill of the legislative session, which ended April 9, was the Clean Cars Act, which requires Maryland to adopt the tougher emissions standards imposed by California rather than those mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The bill also requires a reduction of the average carbon dioxide emissions of cars sold in Maryland beginning in 2010, which will likely mean that cars sold in the state will get higher gas mileage.
Other environmental legislation signed yesterday included a bill to allow the state to lease parcels of the Chesapeake Bay floor to oyster restoration projects and a requirement that the state adopt strict new regulations to manage storm water runoff.
But it was a bill to protect diamondback terrapins that stole the show. The bill O'Malley signed yesterday will ban the commercial harvest of terrapins and will limit the recreational harvest of the turtles, which can be used to make soup, to three per person.
Every time a governor signs bills, a crush of people crowds around behind the table where he, the Senate president and House speaker are sitting to get in a picture with them. So many people waited to stand in the clean cars photo that the governor's photographer had to take two pictures.
But when the time came to sign the terrapin bill, the sponsors and advocates shared the shot with two turtles that they passed back and forth.
O'Malley, clowning around, moved in as if to kiss one of them. Del. Virginia Claggett, an Anne Arundel Democrat who sponsored the terrapins bill and who was holding the turtle in question, moved it up toward his face at that moment, causing the governor to jerk his head back in surprise. Terrapins can bite, after all.
They can also carry salmonella. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown passed around a bottle of hand sanitizer after the turtles were taken away.