- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — All was going green last year in the Maryland legislature, with environmentalists winning easy approval of many of their long-awaited priorities. But the story is different this year.

A plan to address global warming by slashing carbon emissions has been weakened. Tougher rules governing waterside development have been modified. And a bill to postpone a deadline for requiring lower phosphates in dishwashing detergent is headed toward approval.

In addition, a major environmental accomplishment of last year — a $50 million fund to clean up the Chesapeake Bay — has already been raided by lawmakers before a single dollar is spent. The fund now stands at about $25 million.

Environmental activists say they’re still making progress. But the going is much slower in the 2008 legislative session than it was last year, when lawmakers signed off on pollution controls for power plants and mandated cleaner-burning cars. The legislature also banned power clam-dredging in Atlantic coastal bays and ended the commercial harvest of diamondback terrapins.

Activists hoped to regain momentum yesterday in dramatic fashion. They used chalk to draw a line across an Annapolis street, about a quarter-mile away from the water, to represent a possible new shoreline if global warming isn’t addressed.

“Sea-level rise would be devastating for this city,” said Tommy Landers of Environment Maryland. “And not just Annapolis. Baltimore, the Eastern Shore — everywhere.”

The demonstration was aimed at House members, who are considering a global-warming measure significantly weakened by the Senate. Senators voted last week for carbon reductions that scientists say are necessary to slow climate change. But they amended the bill to take away power from state environmental regulators to enforce the reductions, a move environmentalists say would gut the bill. A maneuver to try to get senators to reconsider the change failed.

If the Senate amendment stays in the bill, “it would be useless,” Mr. Landers said.

He and other activists at the demonstration said they were optimistic the House would reverse course and pass a stronger global-warming bill. But they said it was too soon to tell whether a bill they’re calling the Global Warming Solutions Act can be revived.

“I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill,” said Brad Heavner, head of Environment Maryland, who joked that the bill should now be dubbed “the Global Warming Lack-Of-Solutions Act.”

Mr. Heavner acknowledged this legislative session has been a battle, despite Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, backing two big environmental initiatives — the zoning and global-warming bills.

“Legislators have chipped away at the proposal in a hundred different ways, and it’s like a race to the lowest common denominator,” Mr. Heavner said.

Some lawmakers also see a change.

“It’s not nearly enough,” said Delegate Karen S. Montgomery, Montgomery Democrat, who plans to push House members to give more teeth to the global-warming bill.

Republicans say the environmental community has overreached in the past couple years and is seeing a natural slide as lawmakers shift focus to other areas.

“If anybody overreaches, they make the mistake of not getting anything at all,” said House Republican Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland.

Environmental activists say what they regard as backsliding can be corrected in the two final weeks of the session.

They also don’t want to appear ungrateful since Mr. O’Malley was elected in November 2006.

“Compared to a couple years ago, we’re in great shape,” said David O’Leary, a volunteer with the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club. “Then, we weren’t making progress at all.”

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