Friday, April 25, 2008

O’Malley inks environment bills

Constellation settlement signed; ‘alcopops’ legislation delayed

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Gov. Martin O’Malley (center) signed about 200 bills Thursday. Senate President Thomas V. Miller Jr. (left) and Speaker Michael E. Busch joined O’Malley for the ceremony. Several of the measures are aimed at conserving energy in Maryland.
ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a collection of about 200 bills, including several aimed at protecting the environment and reducing energy usage.

Included was legislation securing a $2 billion settlement with Constellation Energy Group, giving ratepayers of the company’s subsidiary, Baltimore Gas & Electric, a one-time $170 rebate and relieving customers of about $1.5 billion in costs related to the eventual decommissioning of the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Calvert County.

O’Malley (D) called the settlement ‘‘the first win consumers have had in a long, long time.”

Missing from the signing ceremony was legislation pertaining to the definition of ‘‘alcopops,” fruit-flavored alcoholic beverages. Both houses of the General Assembly wanted the drinks formally defined as beer instead of distilled spirits. If they’re beer, they carry a lower tax.

The alcopop legislation was originally to be signed on Thursday, but after a meeting with a group of parents, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other advocacy group officials, the governor delayed signing the bill into law.

Opponents of the bill argued that the drinks are aimed at underage youth, and the lower price that comes with the beer distinction keeps the drinks affordable. During the session Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) issued an opinion declaring the drinks distilled spirits.

There are two more bill signing sessions — May 13 and 22 — at which O’Malley can consider signing the bills, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

O’Malley was joined at the ceremony by Senate President Thomas V. Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

Several of the energy bills are aimed at preventing electricity shortages, which are predicted to occur in the state as soon as 2011.

Among the bills was legislation establishing solar and geothermal tax credits; the EmPower Maryland Energy Efficiency initiative, which establishes a state goal of 15 percent reduction in per capita electricity consumption and peak demand by the end of 2015; and green building standards for new and renovated state buildings and new school buildings.

Earlier this week, O’Malley joined 17 other governors in signing a climate change declaration calling for the federal government to follow their lead in acting to curb human activities that contribute to climate change.

For the Chesapeake Bay, O’Malley signed legislation securing $25 million for the Bay trust fund. Lawmakers looking to balance the budget cut the governor’s original allocation for the trust fund in half.

The Constellation legislation was almost derailed during the final days of the session when the Senate adopted an amendment aimed at re-regulating the state’s utilities that put the settlement in limbo. The signed settlement also boosts the chances for the possible construction of a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs.

Thursday’s ceremony followed the Montgomery County Council’s passage of a package of environmental legislation Tuesday, including a requirement for new homes to meet strict federal energy standards. Also included in the county’s legislation was a Climate Action Plan with the goal of reducing the county’s carbon emissions by 10 percent by 2010, and an additional 10 percent every five years until meeting the ultimate goal of 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. A similar O’Malley proposal to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 was rejected by the General Assembly.

‘‘Montgomery County has proven itself to be far, far ahead of almost every jurisdiction in the region with the passage of the package of energy environment bills this week. The county will prove to be a great model for any local jurisdiction serious about conserving energy and protecting our environment,” said Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda.

Bronrott, a longtime environmental advocate, was recognized by O’Malley for his efforts in getting the green buildings legislation passed.

‘‘What we are doing at the state level is trying to keep up with all the good hard work in Montgomery County, and I think we are doing a good job,” Bronrott said. ‘‘I think we’ve had a lot of progress over the last two years with the passage of bills that will reduce Maryland’s carbon footprint and conserve energy and other precious resources.”

Also included in the bill signing was legislation designating the multi-layered Smith Island Cake Maryland’s official dessert.

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For a full list of bills signedby Gov. Martin O’Malley,visit⁄links