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Wind power dead in water again

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s signature energy initiative was blown away by a Senate panel on the final afternoon of the General Assembly, as the Finance Committee voted down the administration-backed offshore wind energy bill.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (left) and Sen. E.J. Pipkin face off Monday during the final day of Maryland’s 2012 General Assembly session.

HB 441, which passed by an 88-47 vote in the House of Delegates in late March, could not obtain the votes needed in the Senate panel Monday to push the legislation to the Senate floor, where proponents felt it had the votes needed for passage.

The bill would have guaranteed a market for companies that constructed energy-producing wind turbines at least 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City.

A similar bill failed to gain momentum last year. O’Malley had said the legislation could create 2,000 jobs.

Del. Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he would push for similar legislation next year.

“I think it’s an enormous missed opportunity for the state of Maryland,” Hucker said. “I think all of our districts will suffer because we won’t benefit from the jobs that would have been created.”

Also Monday, legislation that would have forced natural gas companies to pay for a study into the safety of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in Western Maryland was defeated in a Senate committee, leaving the state’s future energy plan unsettled.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, lead sponsor of HB 1204 and also a proponent of offshore wind energy, said the bill to fund the study fell victim to an aggressive energy agenda in the General Assembly.

The state does not have money budgeted for fracking study, which is expected to cost about $2 million, Mizeur said. The bill, which would have forced gas companies who have leased land in Western Maryland to pay the state $15 per acre, could have raised $1.8 million.

A 14-member commission, appointed by O’Malley in June, is supposed to finish its study by August 2013, and then would present its findings to the General Assembly.

With the bill’s failure, however, Mizeur said she would attempt to convince the governor and the commission to move its study deadline to 2014.

Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling into the Marcellus Shale, a rock-encased deposit of natural gas that runs about one mile deep under much of Garret County and a sliver of Allegany County.

The practice has been linked to flammable drinking water and earthquakes in other states, including Pennsylvania. It has also been connected to global warming, as methane gas is released into the atmosphere in the course of drilling.

A number of bills remained unresolved as the legislature tried to agree to a fiscal 2013 operating budget before a midnight deadline.

As the night wore on, members of Baltimore’s House delegation said they had received assurances from Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, that $2.5 million to fund the planning and design of a project that includes a Baltimore Convention Center expansion, plus a new downtown arena and hotel would be approved.

That assurance appeared to help along an agreement on a bill that would expand state gambling, pending a voter referendum. The gambling bill appeared to hold up budget negotiations for the last several days.

More in doubt was a bill that would create rules to govern public-private partnerships entered into by the state.

Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos told a Senate panel in late March that he did not approve of changes made to a House version of the public-private partnerships bill, just days after that chamber attached two amendments that would allow the state to appeal two court decisions in an ongoing case in which Angelos is involved.

Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and a downtown property owner, is paying for much of a lawsuit that challenges the contract award for the proposed State Center development in downtown Baltimore.

The administration-backed bill was amended in a House committee to make the legislation apply retroactively and allow an expedited appeals process for parties in those cases. The retroactive amendment targets the State Center case, which is tied up in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The Senate panel ultimately passed its own version of the legislation, minus the House amendments.

In a statement, Angelos confirmed the rare meeting with legislators, and applauded the Senate’s effort to remove the amendments.

“That bill wasn’t good for the state,” Angelos said. “I met with a number of senators to talk to them about the entire bill, and I am appreciative that they killed the retroactive portion of it.”

Alan M. Rifkin, lead attorney in the State Center lawsuit, said the bill was an attempt to circumvent state procurement law. Rifkin’s partner, Scott Livingston, drafted that procurement code, enacted to ensure fair competition for government contracts.

Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, a member of the Senate panel, said Angelos had serious problems with the bill as a whole.

The Senate panel ultimately partially heeded the warning of Angelos, and others.

“He did not agree with expedited litigation review [and] retroactivity,” Manno said. “But, neither did the [Maryland State] Bar Association.

“It’s an extraordinary remedy that nobody else has.”

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who has run point on this legislation for the administration, said the bill would still be acceptable if passed without the controversial House amendments.

“We don’t need those two amendments,” Brown said.

Daily Record Business Writer Melody Simmons contributed to this story