From today's Annapolis Capitol:
More than 100 people are at work on the final draft report of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change.
Though a small but vocal group of conservative activists charges that the input of all those people isn't affecting much. Rather, they say a consulting firm, the Center for Climate Strategies, is calling the shots and pushing Maryland to adopt a plan that's a carbon-copy of plans passed by other states.
Meanwhile, officials with the state and the center are quick to defend the work as being timely and crucially important."We decided to work with them because they have staff with a lot of expertise on these issues," said state environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson, who also serves as chairman of the climate commission. "They bring to the table the ability to inform us about what different cities, states and countries are doing."
The disagreement started with frustration over the commission's interim recommendations in November, to slash carbon-dioxide emissions in the state and promote energy efficiency.
Then, global-warming critics were galled to find out the center is controlled by another group that makes no bones about its environmental advocacy.
Mark Newgent of Baltimore has written extensively about the center and the climate commission on the Red Maryland blog as well as on his personal blog. He said Maryland is getting a raw deal by "essentially farming out its policy discussions to an advocacy group."
Mr. Newgent said he's not sold on the idea that humans are causing global warming. He also said he thinks the commission's process wasn't carried out in a forthright manner.
"I'm nitpicking at the process because we're supposed to have transparent and open government," he said.
He said he is further irritated by the fact that when he filed a Public Information Act request for documents about the center and the commission, the Maryland Department of the Environment told him he'd have to pay $1,381.40 to get copies.
David K. Kyle of Pasadena once ran for the state Senate as a Republican, and now he's a "conservative independent," he said. He, too, said he doesn't like what he's hearing about the climate commission and the center.
He said he laments that the commission didn't entertain discussions about global-warming science. There are too many questions about global warming to jump into coming up with ways to combat it, he said."
Their mind was already made up," he said.
Maryland has not paid for the center's work. When the center works with states - 25 and counting - it often brings its own funding.
That's what has some activists concerned - they say that funding comes from left-wing organizations and colors the process.
The center's Executive Director Thomas D. Peterson didn't say who is funding the work in Maryland, but said the donors don't influence the work that's being done."
We take the objectivity of our work very seriously," Mr. Peterson said.
To ensure the report's objectivity, he said donors must give the money with "no strings attached" and that there are enough funding sources so that no one source controls a majority of the money.
He said the private funding is needed because many states have an interest in developing climate plans but don't have the money to pay for it.
"Most states are broke," he said. "It's very difficult for states to mobilize funding for new initiatives if they're not mandated and fully funded."
Paul Chesser, a North Carolina activist who has been working to discredit the center on behalf of the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the center is putting on a repeat performance in state after state.
"They're all the same policy ideas," he said.Mr. Peterson said his staff has come up with more than 300 possible ways states can reduce greenhouse gases. Each state typically picks about 50 that will work best based on their sources of emissions.
The state commissions "want to learn from what other states have done, but they want to do something that is tailor-made to their state," he said.
Ms. Wilson, the state environment secretary, said tapping into the center's expertise helped speed up the commission's process.
Ms. Wilson said the allegations that the center pushes its own ideas on the commission are false.
It's not clear whether the concerns about the center will have any effect on state lawmakers, who will consider several bills that include one of the key recommendations of the climate commission.
The central focus will be on the Global Warming Solutions Act, which would require the state to slash emissions and set up a cap-and-trade program for major sources of greenhouse gases.
The bill faces an uncertain future. It died without action last year, and so far this year, it hasn't gained the public support of the governor or the leaders of the Senate or the House of Delegates.
Mr. Newgent, the blogger from Baltimore, acknowledges there's likely nothing that can be done about the center's consulting deal. But he thinks the Global Warming Solutions Act can be stopped.
"I hope it's not too late," he said.