- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Martin O’Malley is preparing to back a sweeping plan to confront global warming through a state carbon cap, administration and environmental officials said yesterday.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat who has said he wants to be a leader in dealing with sea-level rise, planned an announcement today to back a bill that would set the nation’s toughest limits on carbon emissions — a 90 percent drop from 2006 levels by 2050. The bill would require a 25 percent drop by 2020.

Mr. O’Malley planned to suggest changes to the bill, and those changes weren’t made public in advance of his announcement, but people with knowledge of the governor’s plans said the main points of the global warming bill would get his backing.

“The spirit is upheld, absolutely,” said Brad Heavner, director of Environment Maryland, who has been in talks with the administration on the global-warming bill.

The governor’s announcement was planned as a Senate committee prepares to take up the global warming bill Thursday. More than 200 environmental activists met in Annapolis yesterday to learn about the global-warming bill and three other proposals backed by environmental groups.

The other three — a plan to spend a $50 million Chesapeake Bay fund, an energy efficiency measure and a reform to state zoning laws that apply to development near waterways — already have the administration’s support.

Mr. O’Malley convened a task force last year to study global warming and recommend ways Maryland, with more than 3,000 miles of coastline, could address climate change. The task force tentatively has proposed the nation’s toughest carbon cap, but its report is not yet final. New Jersey, California and Florida have set goals of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

John Griffin, head of the Department of Natural Resources, said global warming poses a significant risk to the state’s outdoors and the Chesapeake Bay.

“He felt pretty strongly we needed to act,” Mr. Griffin said of Mr. O’Malley’s decision to back the global-warming bill.

The global-warming fight would get a significant boost from the governor’s backing, but questions remain from lawmakers about how much the carbon cap would cost and what it would do. Scientists disagree on whether steep carbon caps are even possible. Task force members conceded last year that it is not clear how Maryland could slash its carbon output by 90 percent.

“You have to know realistically whether it can take place or not,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch told reporters. Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, addressed the environmental activists but did not mention the carbon cap.

He told reporters the legislature already has “worked incrementally” to take action on global warming, from a law requiring cleaner cars to the joining of a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gases.

“I like to think we’ve been working toward that for a four- or five-year period of time,” Mr. Busch said.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, attended the environmental briefing and told activists they should push for the carbon cap even though climate change is a global problem, not just a state problem.

“The Global Warming Solutions Act is so important to get done,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “If you wait for the federal government, you’re going to wait for a long time.”

Mr. Van Hollen said that if enough states adopt carbon caps, the federal government will follow their lead.

“So don’t let anybody tell you this is a national problem, and you shouldn’t do it,” he said.

Mr. Heavner said the carbon reductions could be met through steps such as increasing the use of clean energy or requiring energy-efficient buildings and preventing sprawl development. Though the global warming bill was not announced with the rest of the governor’s legislative agenda last month, the delay comes because of the complexity of the subject, Mr. Heavner said.

“It took them a while to talk through it,” Mr. Heavner said.

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