Anapolis Demonstrators Push for Energy Bill

Maryland State House circled by caravan of gasoline-electric hybrids.

Published: 11-Jan-2004

They circled the Maryland State House yesterday in a colorful caravan of gas-electric hybrid cars -- silver Honda Insights trailing red-white-and-blue streamers, salsa-red Toyota Priuses plastered with white "Stop Global Warming!" placards.

What better way, organizers said, to kick off a rally to demand passage of an energy efficiency bill vetoed last spring by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

"We figured we should practice what we preach," said Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a nonprofit environmental group that co-sponsored the demonstration, which drew about 40 people. "So if we came to Annapolis, we should come by the most energy-efficient means possible."

The legislation at issue, sponsored by Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) and Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery), would set electricity efficiency standards for nine types of appliances and equipment sold or installed in Maryland, including torchier floor lamps, ceiling fans, commercial clothes washers, commercial refrigerators, unit heaters, large air-conditioners and illuminated exit signs.

The proposal, passed last spring in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly with enough votes to override a veto, could come up for an override vote as soon as Wednesday, when the state lawmakers convene their session. If adopted, the measure -- one of several passed that were rejected last year by the governor -- could become the first passed over a Maryland governor's veto since 1989.

Edward R. Osann, Maryland representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council, predicted last week in an interview that state lawmakers who voted for the bill before would remain supportive. "Nothing has happened in the intervening time to suggest this bill is any less important or useful," he said. "In fact, quite the opposite: We had the blackout [in the Northeast in August] and all the damage from the Hurricane Isabel [in September] to the electrical system."

At the rally, Osann led the cheering crowd through a long list of benefits that advocates say the bill would bring: more than $600 million in cumulative net savings on energy bills through 2020; reduction of electric energy consumption by 700 million kilowatt-hours in 2010, enough energy to meet the current needs of more than 75,000 Maryland householders.

"Why wouldn't anyone want to achieve these things?" Osann asked.

But in vetoing the bill, Ehrlich cited the concern of some business groups that the legislation would dramatically increase the cost of various products and services -- coin-operated laundries in multi-family housing complexes, for example. The governor also worried that increased prices could be passed on to consumers, including many who he said would be least able to afford the increases.

Ehrlich also argued that setting energy standards, while a laudable goal, is the responsibility of the federal government and that by going it alone, Maryland would risk losing business to neighboring states whose stores would continue to offer less efficient -- and less expensive -- appliances.

Michael T. Richard, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, reiterated those worries after watching the rally, which was co-sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland Public Interest Research Group and the Maryland Interfaith Climate Alliance.

"We're not necessarily on different sides of the issue here. The governor would like to achieve the same outcome," said Richard, noting that Ehrlich soon will appear in a series of advertisements urging consumers to buy energy-efficient products subsidized by the federal government.

"It's just that we think creating a patchwork of 50 different state energy-efficiency standards is not the way to do it," Richard said.

Tidwell countered that a national bill imposing energy efficiency standards on five of the products covered by the Maryland bill has been stalled in Congress for several years. "I don't think we can wait around forever . . . ," he said. "It's completely within the right of states to take the lead."

And he insisted that any short-term increased costs to consumers would be more than offset by energy-bill savings.

"That's the beauty of this," he said. "It's win-win for Maryland."

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