Economic Escape Valve to Moderate Maryland's Tough Emissions Law

The Healthy Air Act  that Maryland Governor Ehrlich signed into law in early April requires seven Maryland power plants to reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide by 90% by 2015; nitrogen oxides by 80% by 2015; and mercury by 80 % by 2010 and by 90% by 2012.  The law also requires Maryland to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a compact of seven northeastern and middle Atlantic states that have pledged to cut 10 % of  their carbon dioxide emissions by 2018.


While these requirements represent one of the toughest emissions laws to be enacted to date in the United States, the law also contains an escape valve:  Maryland's Department of the Environment is authorized to reduce or waive penalties for plants that fail to reach the targets based on a determination that the cost of pollution controls required to comply with the law would "significantly increase electric rates."


With the new law, Maryland joins Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and North Carolina as the only states to enact laws requiring comparable reductions of multiple pollutants.  The law's passage, however, comes at the same time as Maryland consumers and utilities struggle with the implementation of industry deregulation and the attendant power price increases - a juxtaposition that, together with the new law's economic waiver provision, may decrease the effectiveness of the Health Air Act in curbing emissions.