March 16, 2010

Bill would require greener state purchases, but manufacturers balk

Print More

By Nick DiMarco
Nick@MarylandReporter.com

Maryland would have to look for environmentally-friendly products when making state purchasing decisions, under a bill backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, but opponents are concerned the measure could cost the state hundreds of factory jobs.

The Green Maryland Act of 2010 proposes a shift to purchasing products for state agencies that are biodegradable, non-toxic and recycled.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said the move would help make Maryland the “greenest state government in America.

“The bill is an effort to codify the green trend in state contracting and procurement and internal administrative practices,” said Raskin, the bill’s lead sponsor. “My hope is that Maryland state government will show everyone how to lead by example.”

But officials from Solo Cup Co. and other companies told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee last week that they were concerned about the elimination of polystyrene food and beverage products from state facilities.

There are three Solo manufacturing and distribution facilities in Maryland with 1,292 employees. The company produces a line of products that are made from polystyrene.

“If this bill were adopted Solo’s operations and jobs at its three locations would be at risk … it could ultimately lead to closing of our facilities in Maryland,” said Benjamin Benedict, plant manager at the company’s Owings Mills site.

He touted the benefits of using polystyrene and denounced the “misinformation”  about health risks caused by the product. Benedict also noted that  Solo pays about $5 million in state taxes each year.

Raskin said he understood Solo’s fiscal concerns.

“They are worried about the affect it will have on their market share,” he said. “There are lots of businesses that used to produce things that ended up being phased out of the market and those businesses adjusted and moved on to new things.”

Solo spokeswoman Angie Gorman said she could not pinpoint the volume of business the company does with the state because products are sold through distributors. She said she’s worried about the precedent that the bill would set.

“It’s been our experience that this is a starting point and that we will see these restrictions moved to broader implications,” Gorman said. ““The bigger concern is the very good possiblity that will expand beyond state agencies.”