- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — While Gov. Martin O’Malley is out stumping with other political leaders for their presidential picks today, lawmakers will be weighing some of the governor’s top priorities in the Maryland Capitol.

Senate and House committees will consider O’Malley administration proposals to curb energy use by 15 percent, crack down on mortgage lenders and increase state investments in renewable energy — hallmarks of the governor’s second legislative package.

The governor’s proposals to conserve energy will be overshadowed by today’s presidential primary, said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the committee hearing Mr. O’Malley’s energy legislation today.

“This is the first step in the process for the House and the Senate and there will be other hearings in the coming days and weeks,” said Rick Abbruzzese, an O’Malley spokesman. “The media is pretty savvy here in Maryland. I think they’ll be able to cover both the primary and the energy bills fairly and objectively.”

Five of Mr. O’Malley’s 19 bills will be heard today in House and Senate committees. Among them are proposals to double the amount invested in renewable energy and to crack down on extra fees applied by mortgage lenders.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican and one of the Senate’s energy regulation watchdogs, is expected to be campaigning today in an attempt to unseat Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in the party primary for the 1st Congressional District.

Republicans largely have been skeptical of Mr. O’Malley’s energy proposals.

“The people are having sticker shock when they’re getting their wintertime electric bill and home heating bill, and gas at the pump is hovering at $3,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “Couple that with massive tax increases and now he wants to make our energy bills even higher. It makes me wonder what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, will be out campaigning for presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for most of the day, though members of his administration will testify at the hearings.

The EmPower Maryland act includes measures to require energy companies to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent by 2015 and to “decouple” energy rates, guaranteeing that energy companies will be compensated for distribution costs.

Decoupling has been considered a means to induce utility companies, which would lose money as consumers use less energy, to encourage conservation.

The Office of the People’s Counsel, the independent agency that represents consumer interests before legislative committees and the Public Service Commission, supports the energy requirements, but has given energy decoupling a lukewarm response.

“These are short- and middle- and long-term issues,” said Paula Carmody, people’s counsel. “These issues are not going to go away.”


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