- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The Ehrlich administration has opted not to join 12 other states in a legal effort to overturn new federal regulations that environmental groups say will hinder efforts to curb air pollution from power plants.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat, had sought Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s approval to join the challenge of the rules announced in March by the Bush administration.

The rules exempt coal-fired power plants from tough mercury pollution-control requirements, instituting an emissions-trading program instead.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, said the governor was following the “recommendations of the scientists at the Maryland Department of the Environment [MDE]” and referred questions to that agency.

Julie Oberg, an MDE spokeswoman, said the department is concerned that the Bush administration’s approach to mercury is not strong enough. Instead of filing a lawsuit, the agency believed it would be more productive to ask for a meeting with new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson to request stronger national rules.

“We have requested a meeting in order to try to persuade the Environmental Protection Agency to have more reductions [of mercury] in a shorter time frame,” Miss Oberg told the Baltimore Sun. “If our meeting doesn’t go as we’d like it, we can still join the lawsuit.”

Neither Mr. Curran, who has been attorney general for 18 years, nor his predecessor Stephen H. Sachs who served for eight years, could recall a similar example of a governor denying such a request.

But both said that the governor has the right to do so, because the attorney general — although independently elected — serves as legal adviser to the state administration, which has final authority as the client.

“I think the national law that would best protect the Chesapeake Bay and the people of Maryland is the law we have now, not de-listing power plants as a source of air pollution to be regulated,” Mr. Curran said Tuesday. “I prefer the approach of our sister states.”

Environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Riverkeeper Alliance, criticized the Ehrlich administration’s approach, saying the rules have been made final by the EPA and the deadline for comments and most legal challenges has passed.

Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, California and Massachusetts are among the states that have filed challenges to the Bush administration’s mercury-control regulations.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, said the governor was looking out for “corporate interests” and was “trying to appeal to his donor base.”

“If there is a person in his administration who cares about the environment, that person is obviously getting hooted down,” Mr. Miller said.

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