- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Maryland lawmakers expect to have enough signatures next week on a petition for a special General Assembly session on soaring energy rates but still don’t have a plan to resolve the issue, said the delegate leading the petition drive.

“I’ve kind of hit a snag in that we have yet to finish our framework [for an energy plan],” said Delegate Curt Anderson, Baltimore Democrat. “Before we go back into session, we need an idea about what we are going to do. … I need to get people a plan they can look at.”

Mr. Anderson said 15 state senators and 42 delegates, including one Senate and six House Republicans, have pledged to sign a petition that would force Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to call a special legislative session.

Under state law, a petition signed by the majority in both chambers — 25 senators and 71 delegates — will compel the governor to call a special session. A special session has never been forced by petition in Maryland history.

Democrats have led the push for a special session since Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, announced last month that he had brokered a deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to phase in a 72 percent rate increase for the utility’s 1.1 million residential customers.

The governor’s plan, which the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) approved last week, was crafted after the Democrat-controlled legislature adjourned without passing an energy plan.

Mr. Anderson said the framework for the lawmakers’ energy plan is being drafted by members of the Legislative Black Caucus, including its incoming leader — Sen. Verna Jones, Baltimore Democrat.

If the framework resembles the plan that lawmakers failed to pass last month, it likely will include measures that would reduce the governor’s authority over the PSC and assign a special counsel with subpoena power to examine the proposed $11 billion merger of Constellation Energy Group, BGE’s parent company, and Florida utility FPL Group.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, is reviewing proposals and reportedly working on his own framework for a special session.

The speaker’s endorsement of a plan, although not necessary to call a special session, would draw considerable Democratic support to the petition.

Mr. Busch did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s Democrat who also could sway support for the petition, has declined to help the effort, Mr. Anderson said.

“Mike Miller has not been the most congenial guy with this,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Miller declined to comment yesterday.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said he was not surprised that lawmakers still lack an energy plan.

“The General Assembly had seven years and eight legislative sessions to provide their so-called framework for relief. They refused to do it. They refused to provide a penny of relief to working families,” he said. “It is unproductive for them to convene a special session to try to rewrite history and appear as if they are doing something.”

The rate increases have resulted, in part, from a 1999 utility deregulation plan passed by the legislature under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The plan capped BGE’s rates below market value for six years.

World energy demand, especially from the emerging economies of India and China, and Hurricane Katrina’s disruption to U.S. energy supply lines also pushed energy prices higher as BGE’s rate caps expire.

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