- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — After saying Maryland did not need a new law to mandate cleanups at power plants, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday unexpectedly signed into law a bill doing just that.

The law requires coal-fired power plants in parts of Maryland to sharply reduce emissions of four pollutants, including mercury. It also calls for the state to join a regional pact to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2019.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, signed the measure into law without telling Democratic lawmakers who worked on the bill, which they perceived as a snub.

The governor was scheduled to sign a bill making Maryland one of four states that fund embryonic stem-cell research, but the signing of the pollution bill wasn’t advertised.

Mr. Ehrlich last year recommended a policy change that would accomplish some of the cleanups without a new law. His version did not call for a cut in carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists think contribute to global warming.

“The issue is the carbon,” Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday in brief remarks to explain why he was signing the measure.

He said the technology to reduce carbon dioxide “does not currently exist, but we believe it will” by 2019.

Democrats weren’t happy that Mr. Ehrlich approved the measure without telling them. Usually sponsors of bills that become law are invited to join the governor for pictures and such.

“Guess what, governor — none of my members were invited,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, said after the signing. “These are not happy times in the state Capitol.”

Later, when the Senate convened, the pollution bill’s sponsor rose to say he heard in the car on the way to Annapolis that a bill signing was imminent.

“To not invite the sponsor and the many advocates who worked for this bill, I find it abominable,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said the governor tried to contact Mr. Pinsky yesterday morning but couldn’t reach him. He called the ruffled feathers “such a minor political drama.”

“The governor just cut air pollution in Maryland by record levels, and yet Democrats in the legislature are furious,” Mr. Fawell said.

The air pollution law allows Maryland to back out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative starting in 2009 if power companies show that cleanups would threaten electricity supply.

The law will affect coal-fired power plants in metropolitan Baltimore and Washington, which power suppliers had warned may drive up prices just as rate caps are to expire across Maryland.

The stem-cell law was even more divisive than the pollution bill when lawmakers considered it.

Because some think it’s unethical to destroy human embryos for research, the question of the state paying for the research sparked a daylong filibuster in the Senate.

It even divided Mr. Ehrlich, who suggested $20 million for the research, and his lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

The legislature settled on $15 million next year for stem-cell research, including embryonic research.

Once the research grants are awarded, Maryland would be the fourth state to allow public support of embryonic stem-cell research, sponsors said.

Mr. Ehrlich praised the research law, saying it turns over the question of what projects to fund to a panel of scientists, not politicians. “This bill is done the right way,” he said.

Mr. Steele, a fellow Republican, said he supported stem-cell research but not the destruction of human embryos. He mentioned adult stem-cell studies and stem cells from cord blood.

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