Effort to slow global warming carries high price, critics say
O’Malley administration officials said yesterday they don’t yet know how they would achieve the governor’s ambitious goal of cutting global-warming pollution by 90 percent by 2050.
But representatives of Maryland’s only steel mill, the Domino Sugar factory in Baltimore and a paper mill in Western Maryland warned of closings or dire financial losses if the state passes a law with some of the nation’s toughest limits on carbon dioxide.
“That plant is not going to survive,” said Gene Burner, lobbyist for the ArcelorMittal steel plant at Sparrows Point, which employs 2,500 workers. “In order to make steel, you have to produce carbon dioxide. … The only way to limit carbon dioxide is not to make it.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley held a news conference to announce his support for legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions on all industries, following laws in California, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and Hawaii.
The law would use financial rewards and punishments – as well as voluntary energy efficiency programs – to cut greenhouse gas pollution by 25 percent by 2020 and by 90 percent by 2050.
Environmentalists, scientists, public health experts and alternative energy companies also pledged their support for the Global Warming Solutions Act during a Senate hearing yesterday. The supporters argue that state limits are necessary to spur federal action and will help to prevent deadly floods and economic chaos brought by climate change.
O’Malley and other proponents of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Kumar P. Barve, argue that the bill could boost the state’s economy by adding jobs in the solar, wind and alternative-energy fields.
“The era of fossil fuels and the damage that they have done to the planet and the air we breathe, that era has to become an era of the past,” O’Malley said at the news conference, flanked by environmental advocates.
The bill sets aggressive targets but doesn’t say which industries should cut pollution or by how much. The language doesn’t specify what technologies businesses should use instead of burning coal and oil, or how homeowners and commuters might be affected.
Instead, the proposal gives broad authority to the Maryland Department of the Environment to impose a series of regulations that could affect all sectors of the economy – including transportation, housing and power.
State Secretary of the Environment Shari T. Wilson conceded during a hearing on the bill yesterday that that her agency doesn’t know how the state would reach the goals or if the technology even exists yet.
“It is clear that a lot of innovation and new programs would be needed to meet that goal,” Wilson said. “But we are talking about 42 years in the future. And if you look over the last 42 years, at the kind of innovations that have taken place … the goals are realistic.”
As early steps toward fighting global warming, the O’Malley administration is proposing to require power companies to buy more electricity from wind farms and other renewable energy sources. The administration also wants to encourage customers to use 15 percent less electricity by 2015.
The O’Malley administration offered amendments to Pinsky’s bill yesterday that would give the state the option of using “cap and trade” systems to cut pollution from a variety of sectors.
“Cap and trade” programs are systems that impose fees on businesses that pollute over a fixed limit and send cash to cleaner industries.
An analysis by the state Department of Legislative Services also says that the financial burden on businesses would be “meaningful.” Costs “could increase significantly” for businesses because of new state fees on carbon dioxide emissions.
This uncertainty about the new regulations infuriated business representatives and some Republicans yesterday, who said state residents shouldn’t be asked to take a leap of faith at a time of economic uncertainty.
John Holt, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Unions Local 1900 in Largo, which represents 1,700 power plant and electrical system workers in the state, predicted that the law could shut down power plants.
“They have basically said, ‘Trust us: We won’t lose any revenues and we won’t lose any jobs,'” Holt said of the bill’s sponsors.
State Sen. Andy Harris, a Republican, said the bill could impose fees up to $250 million a year on electric plants.
“That’s a pretty high energy tax when our rate payers are already paying high taxes,” Harris said.
Former California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Terry Tamminen said costs for most customers and businesses would go down because regulations created by the state would encourage conservation. Tamminen said per capita energy consumption in California dropped 40 percent during the past decade because of its regulations.
By Tom Pelton
20 February 2008
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