Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Environmentalists eye last-ditch efforts to stop ICC

But they’re pinning their hopes on the state’s Climate Change commission

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Work on the $2.4 billion Intercounty Connector begins on Redland Road near Founders Mill Drive in Derwood. In the background can be seen Shady Grove Presbyterian Church.
Environmental advocates considering their remaining options to block the Intercounty Connector are hoping a state commission on climate change will recommend using a project’s carbon footprint in deciding whether it should move forward.

The 21-member Maryland Commission on Climate Change, created by an executive order signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, released a draft report on Tuesday in Bethesda.

Recommendations include benchmarks for reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and 90 percent by 2050.

The recommendations closely mirror requirements outlined by legislation that Sen. Paul G. Pinsky and Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg, both commission members, introduced during the General Assembly’s regular 2007 session.

‘‘It’s not a target,” said Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of University Park. ‘‘It’s not ‘Let’s try.’ What my legislation said — and what I hope the recommendations will say — is we will be required to make these reductions.”

Other recommendations focus on energy efficiency and renewable portfolios, which would encourage more investment into renewable energy.

A final report is due in April.

Environmental groups say the final recommendations could provide new fodder in their fight against the $2.4 billion, 18.8-mile ICC, which will connect Gaithersburg and Laurel.

The commission is also charged with assessing Maryland’s ‘‘carbon footprint” — the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels — and investigating how and why climate change is happening with assistance from the University System of Maryland.

Efforts to address climate change are ‘‘undermined completely by moving forward with the ICC,” said Mike Harold, ICC campaign coordinator for the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States.

Bulldozers and shovels began moving dirt last week on the first stretch of road construction, between Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg and Georgia Avenue in Olney.

The road, expected to be complete by 2012, will drag down the state’s transportation funding and contribute to global warming by increasing vehicle emissions, Harold said.

Environmental groups would like to see the commission’s report specifically address how transportation projects contribute to carbon pollution, he said.

The Audubon Naturalist Society joined Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club in a lawsuit contending that federal agencies failed to address the ICC’s impact on air pollution and public health when they approved the project.

U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr. ruled earlier this month that the groups did not demonstrate that federal agencies acted arbitrarily or capriciously in approving the road.

‘‘There is no legal or equitable basis to prevent the Inter-County Connector from moving forward,” Williams wrote.

The groups, which have 90 days from the Nov. 8 ruling to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, are assessing their options have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.

The environmental groups must make a decision on the appeal before thinking about any other litigation, he said.

Outside of legal options, the groups are holding out hope that state officials could change course.

‘‘There is ample time for the legislative processes, i.e., the General Assembly and governor, to make a decision not to move forward with the ICC,” Harold said.

O’Malley (D) has not wavered in his support for the project. At a forum in Takoma Park on Oct. 18, the governor reiterated his support for the road in the face of a largely anti-ICC audience.

In a March letter, 34 state legislators called on the governor to put the project on hold in order to reconsider fallout from building the highway.

The project could sap transportation funds from other projects such as the Purple Line, which would link the Metrorail lines in the Washington suburbs, and the Red Line, which would connect Baltimore’s western suburbs to the city’s rail system, critics said.

During the recently concluded special session, Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Dist. 21) of Beltsville introduced a bill that would have prevented the state in part from financing the ICC.

The bill died in committee.

Environmentalists say a groundswell of opposition from constituents could still persuade enough state lawmakers to block the project.

‘‘The more people find out, the more people are concerned,” Harold said.

Asked if legislators could move to stop the road, House Environmental Matters Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh said flatly, ‘‘No.”

‘‘It’s been packaged, funded. It’s started. It’s been through a court process. I don’t think there’ll be a groundswell now to stop it,” said McIntosh (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.

While other elected officials oppose the road, they are not in a position to stop its construction.

The Prince George’s County Council passed resolutions in 2003 and again in September decrying the highway, which they say will bring more traffic and air pollution, is too expensive and boosts the Montgomery County economy at the expense of Prince George’s.

Four of nine Montgomery County Council members also oppose the ICC.

To learn more

For more on the commission, go to⁄air⁄mccc⁄. The draft report will be posted later this month.