- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

ANNAPOLIS A House committee killed two of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's environmental bills yesterday, and the Senate amended a third bill to the point that administration officials said it would do very little to improve the safety of drinking water.
The House Environmental Matters Committee overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have drastically increased fines for businesses that violate water-pollution regulations and a second bill putting new restrictions on disposal of solid waste.
The bill to increase fines had strong backing from environmental groups, which argued fines are so low that many companies often consider them part of the cost of doing business and make no attempt to comply with pollution regulations.
Mike Morrill, Mr. Glendening's communications director, said the bills were victims of misinformation spread by business lobbyists.
"They managed to clutter up the perception of what these bills actually did," he said.
But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, said the committee rejected the bills because "this particular package is just too far-reaching."
"I really think there is a limit on how far the environmental community can go and still maintain a good pro-business climate," he said. "There's got to be a balance, a certain reasonableness in our approach."
Glum environmental lobbyists bemoaned the loss of the two bills, but held out hope they can strengthen the drinking-water bill when it reaches the House of Delegates.
Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, said her organization and other environmental groups will now concentrate on other bills, including a longer statute of limitations on polluters and the Democratic governor's bill to strengthen the critical-areas law, which has been weakened by adverse court decisions.
She blamed the loss on "extreme rhetoric from a minority of the business community."
"What astounds me is the cavalier attitude toward the environment and toward Smart Growth in an election year, when these issues are so incredibly important to voters," she said.
The drinking-water bill was intended to let the state enforce stricter standards on pollutants, such as arsenic, than those established by the federal government.
The Senate approved an amendment offered by Baltimore senators, who said the bill could cost the city as much as $9 million.
Sen. Brian Frosh, the floor manager for the bill, said the bill now does very little, but that he will support it when it comes up for a final vote later this week.
Mr. Morrill said the governor's top environmental issues the critical-areas law and a bill to extend state regulations to the coastal bays off Ocean City are still alive and the administration will concentrate on getting them approved.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee made quick work yesterday of a batch of gun bills, killing them all just minutes after completing a hearing on firearms issues.
The 11 bills had been offered by activists on both sides of the gun issues.
Among those killed by the committee was the major proposal offered this year by gun-control forces in the legislature. It would have required Marylanders to get a license to buy a handgun.
The committee also killed bills to expand the rights of gun owners after sponsors asked that they be withdrawn. Among them was a bill to give Marylanders the right to carry handguns and to prohibit local governments from filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers.


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