First Click -- Maryland
Your daily download of Maryland's top political news and analysis
Tuesday, October 27, 2009:
New nuclear reactor may hinge on ratepayer rebates
The final arguments are in and it appears the fate of the nation's first new, multibillion-dollar nuclear reactor in nearly three decades may come down to $200 rebates for Baltimore-area electric customers.
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), Attorney General Douglas F Gansler (D), Constellation Energy and a slew of consumer groups filed briefs Monday staking out final positions on Constellation's plan to sell half its assets to Electricite de France.
The two companies have argued that the deal is critical to raise the capital necessary to build a third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland, and to help meet the Washington region's energy demands for decades to come.
O'Malley, who made campaign promises to reduce rising electricity rates for Baltimore Gas & Electric customers, failed in recent weeks to wrest similar rate reductions and other concessions from Constellation (BG&E's parent company) in behind-the-scenes negotiations.
On Monday, his office maintained that $200 million in rebates -- about $200 per household -- should be a key consideration of the state's Public Service Commission, which has declared that it has final say on the sale because of its potential impact on the state's consumers. (For the first time, O'Malley's office did say it would support the sale with such concessions).
Opinions today are plentiful about the state's final stance:
The Baltimore Sun's Laura Smitherman, who reported a leaked version of O'Malley's position
yesterday, quotes Constellation saying in its brief that the sale "will not be closed at all costs or under any conditions."
The Baltimore Business Journal's Scott Dance highlights another Constellation argument: "CEG and BGE are on the proverbial 'ratings edge,' " Constellation lawyers wrote. "Any unexpected or unreasonable order from this [c]ommission could well push the companies over that edge." That includes significant rate concessions or interference in corporate governance, they said.
The Sun's Editorial Board concludes that O'Malley "takes risks" with his campaign against Constellation. And Sun business columnist Jay Hancock estimates the cost of the governor's plan for Constellation at $600 million.
"I wonder how Constellation's bond-rating agencies, which are already putting pressure on the company, would react if the company agrees to these conditions," Hancock writes.
The Gazette's Sean R. Sedam reports that a coalition of environmental, community action and watchdog groups continue to urge the PSC to reject the deal. In a brief they argued that the proposed reactor "would likely apply strong upward pressures on electricity prices for BGE customers, while threatening BGE's financial stability."
The PSC is expected to rule on the Constellation deal in coming weeks.
The rest of the day's roundup:
Watchdog critical of youth isolation in Baltimore facility
Maryland's juvenile justice watchdog is criticizing a policy that isolated fighting youths for long periods of time at a Baltimore detention center as a violation of state law, but the state's juvenile services agency is disputing the monitor's findings, writes the AP's Brian Witte.
State urges counties to order workers to put down cellphones while driving
State employees are nearing the end of the first month of a ban on hand-held cellphone use while driving a state vehicle, writes Deborah Gates in the Daily Times. Now Maryland highway officials are calling on county governments that haven't done so to implement their own.
O'Malley continues focus on home foreclosures
O'Malley, Chief Judge Robert Bell and others will gather today with homeowners they say have benefited from the free counseling services to declare Pro Bono Week in Maryland. The event picks up where the governor left off on Monday.
O'Malley (D) said mandatory mediation could help more unemployed Marylanders stay in their homes, and he'll ask the General Assembly to pass a bill this winter to force banks to work out deals with distressed homeowners.
Smitherman writes in the Sun that foreclosure starts in Maryland are still climbing, and have nearly doubled in the past year to 13,955 in the second quarter that ended in June.
"The O'Malley administration, using figures from data provider RealtyTrac, points to other troublesome trends, including a sharp uptick in foreclosure sale notices issued in the third quarter that ended in September, and the doubling of the number, to 2,210, of foreclosed properties purchased by lenders in that quarter compared with the first quarter."
Medicaid enrollment up sharply
Health care advocates said Monday that they had met their goal of adding 10,000 Baltimore residents to Medicaid rolls since the state expanded coverage and lowered eligibility requirements last year.
Cardin pushes bill to expand unemployment help to Md.
Sen. Ben Cardin is urging Congress to pass a bill that would extend unemployment insurance benefits in all states, writes Dance. Legislation pending in the House would allow states with only unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or higher to continue paying out unemployment benefits for 14 additional weeks. Maryland's unemployment rate is 7.2 percent.
'Too rich for furloughs'
Adam Pagnucco writes in Maryland Politics Watch that he thinks "state legislators are paid too little relative to their job duties" and "that threatens to shrink the pool of competent people willing to serve ... but a few state legislators are genuinely wealthy and would not miss the money." Pagnucco goes on to list lawmakers who have spent at least $50,000 on their own political campaigns but have "turned up their noses at giving back any part of their salaries to the state."
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Aaron C. Davis
October 27, 2009; 8:32 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click
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