End this outrageous 'black liquor' subsidy

Tim Wheeler's most recent article about the fight over black liquor in Maryland's renewable energy standard ("'Black liquor' bill resurrected," March 25) highlights the overwhelming need to reform our state energy policy. Over the last seven years, Maryland ratepayers have spent millions of dollars — money that was supposed to encourage new clean energy like wind and solar — on polluting energy from old out-of-state paper mills. The mills receive this subsidy by burning "black liquor," a carbon-rich byproduct of the paper pulping process and other mill residues. The practice of burning these byproducts, for which they receive a subsidy, has been a standard industry practice since the 1930s.

In 2011, Marylanders spent roughly $8.5 million on renewable energy. Of that, almost half went to black liquor and other mill waste. And of that, only 9 percent stayed in Maryland. The rest of that money subsidizes paper mills in other states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. This is an egregious case of out-of-state corporate welfare, and it is one of the biggest ratepayer rip-offs in Maryland history. Rather than spending a few hundred thousand dollars per year for the average mill that already makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year from paper sales, we should be spending that money to encourage new and clean energy technologies.

When my colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly passed a renewable energy standard, they did not intend to turn Maryland into a black liquor clearing house. This is a clear-cut problem with an obvious solution. The bill that I have sponsored along with Sen. Robert Garagiola, HB 1102/SB 684, wholly protects the Luke Mill plant (the only impacted Maryland paper mill) while ending this loophole once and for all. Doing so would ensure that Maryland's clean energy dollars are spent on precisely that — clean energy.

Del. John Olszewski Jr.

The writer, a Democrat, represents District 6, Baltimore County, in the Maryland House of Delegates.

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