Mirant carbon tax gets initial approval
Council members booed during public hearing
A proposed carbon tax, which would affect only the Mirant power plant in Dickerson, received preliminary approval from a joint County Council committee Tuesday, but not before a showdown with people who believe global warming is a myth.
The debate drew more than one outburst, along with boos and hisses during a public hearing on the tax.
"I would like to thank Mirant for finding the climate change deniers who are here in the audience today," said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park.
Montgomery County Council President Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park threatened to have one Mirant supporter removed for continued interruptions.
"Define greenhouse gas," the man continued to ask of the council.
The full council will take a final vote on the bill today. With what appears to be a majority of council support, council members likely will approve the tax. Councilman Roger Berliner, who proposed it, said he expects Mirant to file suit against it.
Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac has said his bill could raise as much as $15 million from Mirant by imposing a $5 tax for each ton of carbon dioxide it produces.
The bill imposes the tax for all companies producing more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. Mirant is the only company in the county that does so.
The bill drew support Tuesday from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Montgomery County Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, among others.
The crowd of about 200 was split between opponents and supporters.
Robert Gaudette, vice president at Mirant Mid-Atlantic, testified during Tuesday's work session that Berliner's proposed tax actually would harm the environment and drive up energy costs.
If the tax is imposed, Mirant would reduce energy production at its Dickerson plant. That would cause Maryland residents to get more of their energy from out-of-state companies that are not as heavily regulated as those in Maryland, he said.
Those companies also are charging more for their energy, Gaudette said.
He estimated that because his company would lower production at its Dickerson plant, Mirant would pay $7.5 million as a result of the tax.
Berliner said he was not taking advice on the environment from Mirant, but rather from environmental leaders.
Gaudette referred to Berliner's bill as "more sound bite than substance." Berliner said the comment offended him.
"The notion that it is sound bite, not sound policy to suggest that you spend a modest about to clean up after yourself instead of all of these taxpayers out there who will pay for it if you don't, is deeply offensive," Berliner said.
Revenue generated from Berliner's tax would go into the county's reserve fund to start, but eventually would be used to fund environmental efforts.
Fred T. Teal Jr. of Brookeville, a supporter of the carbon tax, said he has followed the county's long history with Mirant.
He said the carbon tax is needed to help curb the company's greenhouse gas emissions and take a step toward helping the environment.
However, Dan Grossberg, chairman of Americans for Prosperity and a Montgomery County resident, said Berliner's bill will effectively put Mirant out of business.
He said the council was not being thoughtful in its deliberations on the carbon tax.
"The idea needs more thought," Gaudette said.