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Brown sidesteps question about O’Malley veto of bill to delay Somerset County wind farm

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) declines to say whether he would have a vetoed a bill that would have delayed – and likely derailed – a proposed wind farm in Somerset County, as Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) did to mixed reviews last week.

“I’ll work to build a better Maryland by leading our state into the future, not looking in the rear-view mirror,” Brown, the front-runner in this year’s race to succeed O’Malley, said in a statement issued by his campaign late Monday in response to a question about whether he supported the governor’s move.

In announcing his decision Friday, O’Malley said that the legislation would have sent a “chilling message” to the clean-energy industry if it became law, a stance that was applauded by environmentalists and officials on the Eastern Shore as a way to bring much-needed jobs to a part of the state that is struggling economically.

But the action ran counter to the wishes of U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Southern Maryland lawmakers, who argue that a wind farm would compromise radar that tests the stealth capabilities of fighter jets at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, just across the Chesapeake Bay. The legislation passed by large margins and was supported by both presiding officers of the General Assembly, who will be key to moving the next governor’s agenda.

“Both the development of wind energy and the continued strength of Patuxent River Naval Air Station are critical to the future of our state,” Brown said in his statement.

Brown, an Army reservist who served a tour of duty in Iraq, noted that he had led the state’s response to the most recent federal base realignment and closure process, saying he “worked closely with the Navy and the Pentagon, building strong relationships with military leadership.”

“As governor, I’ll work with all parties to find a solution that ensures Pax River’s vitality and advances clean-energy technologies such as wind farms that create jobs and power our state into the future,” Brown said.

There are still numerous regulatory and procedural hurdles to clear before the wind farm can be built. And legislative leaders have not ruled out returning to Annapolis for a special session to try to override O’Malley’s veto.

The bill that passed in the final days of the annual legislative session would have delayed wind projects within 56 miles of Patuxent River until June 2015 – effectively killing plans for the Great Bay Wind Center.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), one of Brown’s rivals in the June 24 Democratic primary, said Monday that she supported O’Malley’s veto. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) said he would need more information before making a decision.

“I support the project and voted against legislation to halt the turbines,” Mizeur said in a statement. “The state and federal governments should work together to ensure that the wind turbines do not interfere with the radar system at Patuxent River. We value our partnership with the Naval Base and are honored to have them in Maryland but also pride ourselves on our alternative energy innovation. I am confident that these projects can work in harmony.”

In an interview Monday, Gansler said he would need to know more about the potential threat posed to Pax River by the wind farm and questioned whether the proposed site is the best location.

“I think wind power is a great alternative source of energy,” Gansler said. On the other hand, he said: “You want to give great deference to the legislature.”