- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2011

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley finds himself at potential odds this week with two of his biggest supporters — fellow Democrats and environmental groups — over a bill that would put waste-to-energy plants in the same renewable-energy class as solar and wind plants.

Members of both groups have asked the two-term governor, who has long given vocal support to environmental issues, to veto the legislation Thursday at his final scheduled bill-signing ceremony.

Though Mr. O’Malley has publicly supported the billed, passed during this General Assembly session, he has yet to decide what he will do, administration spokesman Shaun Ademec said Monday.

“He’s the governor of Maryland and he has to make a lot of tough decisions,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat who opposes the bill. “You can make an argument that this is a good thing to do, and it probably is. But you cannot argue that it’s on par with solar or wind.”

The bill would allow waste-to-energy plants, which burn and convert garbage to energy, to sell renewable-energy credits just as solar and wind plants do.

While supporters have called such plants a more environmentally-friendly alternative to dumping trash in landfills, opponents have argued they release pollutants, remove the incentive for recycling programs and would compete directly with cleaner renewable sources.

A slew of health and environmental groups have blasted the bill, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, American Lung Association and state Sierra Club chapter.

Mr. O’Malley, whose proposal this session to establish offshore wind plants failed to get enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, has championed renewable energy as a way to help the environment and attract new businesses.

The state currently gets 5.5 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and officials hope to boost that number to 20 percent by 2022.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, has defended waste-to-energy plants as a legitimate renewable energy source, citing Environmental Protection Agency reports that they are as clean as natural gas facilities and produce cheaper energy than offshore wind.

He also disputes the argument the plants will deter recycling, saying areas that already have them, including Montgomery County, are among the state’s most active recycling communities.

“There’s a lot of pre-sorting that has to be done” with waste-to-energy facilities, said Mr. Middleton, a Charles Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which killed Mr. O’Malley’s offshore wind bill and vets most of the state’s energy legislation.

“It actually encourages and increases recycling,” he said.

Though the governor’s final bill-signing ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, he has until May 31 to veto the bill, at which point it would go into effect whether he signs it or not.

“We always target the last bill-signing as a time to make veto decisions, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Mr. Adamec said.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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