I grew up very near Chesapeake Bay and the water has been a constant in my life. I feel best when I am around it. If we live in Maryland, we are more likely than not to live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, to the Eastern Shore, most rivers drain into Chesapeake Bay. I have seen towns that derived their livelihood from the Bay turn into tourist towns: Rock Hall, St. Michaels, Tilghman and I have seen the condos on Kent Island and Crisfield. I also remember when the Critical Areas Bill was passed and have seen that it was ineffective. Efforts that each of us take can have a large cumulative benefit. The purpose of this diary is to outline what steps each of us can take that can that can help clean up the Bay. Almost every activity we engage in has an impact on the bay. Try to think of the bay in everything you do.
There's a great article in the Post today about how Colorado is benefiting from its commitment to alternative energy. The energy companies out there have met their 10% renewable standard eight years early and have enthusastically agreed with the state government to a 20% standard by 2020. This, despite their opposition to the original standard. And what has been the benefit to the state? Thousands of new jobs as companies have begun building wind turbines in the state. In other words, green (earth-friendly) led to green (jobs and money for the people of Colorado).
Maryland has a renewable standard as well, but we've been slightly behind the curve compared to states like Colorado. And, last session, we saw the Global Warming Solutions Act, which would have set Maryland firmly on the road to serious support for the green economy, go down to defeat. Why? Because the steelworkers got spooked at the small possibility of job losses. And the legislature got spooked by the steelworkers. How's that for short-sighted?
The Assembly has a simple decision to make: either get on board with aggressive policy in support of the green economy, or watch Maryland start to lag behind forward-thinking states like Colorado. We can get thousands of good construction, service, and manufacturing jobs here in the Free State, and do good for the environment at the same time, or we can let other states attract those same jobs instead. The next session needs to see some serious progress on the issue, or sensible people will need to start looking around for new legislators.
The League of Conservation Voters has released their midterm report card on Governor O'Malley, giving him an A-. He took hits for not vetoing the bill that extended the deadline for the phosphorous ban, lack of more intense effort on smart growth, and his continuing support for the ICC. From the press release:
This is the highest score the conservation watchdog group has ever given a governor, and the first-ever A grade, since the Maryland League of Conservation Voters began issuing governor’s report cards in 1997.
Didn't notice this the last time I was on the website, but ERedux has Maryland at 11th nationwide in terms of per capita carbon output. Now, I don't mind us getting beat by Vermont, or even by Idaho, although how Idaho manages to be so green is a mystery to me. But the fact that we're getting beat by New Jersey just sticks in my craw. I mean, the entire north end of the Jersey Turnpike is one big industrial area. Plus, it gives my wife bragging rights. We've got to do better, people.
“Families and small businesses all across the district feel the pain every time they refill their tanks,” said Kratovil. “By stopping rampant speculation, increasing domestic energy production, and investing in renewable sources of energy, we can ease prices in the short term and move toward energy independence in the long term.”...
“Andy Harris has had eight years in Annapolis to be a leader on renewable energy, but instead he has stood in the way of progress at every turn. Just this year, he voted against three major bills that would have made Maryland a national leader on renewable energy and energy efficiency,” said Kratovil. Harris’s 9% lifetime environmental record is the 6th worst in the entire 188-member Maryland General Assembly, according to the League of Conservation Voters."
“Now he’s pushing a gas tax holiday that would cost Maryland 4,000 construction jobs and do next to nothing to lower prices. Even his own supporters at the conservative Washington Times have mocked that idea,” continued Kratovil. “He’s also talking about opening up the Maryland coast to drilling, despite the fact that oil companies are already sitting on 68 million acres of untapped leases. I favor expanding domestic production, but we don’t have to do it the Andy Harris way.”
Harris is running his campaign on the extreme right, parroting the lines of congressional Republicans. But the voters of the 1st district care deeply about the environment. So this is one of Kratovil's strongest areas of attack. And if voters understand that Frank's got a real plan, and all Harris has is talking points and spin, they'll elect Frank in a heartbeat.
Good news: The EPA is proposing that Fort Detrick be declared a Superfund site, which could accelerate efforts to clean up contaminents left over from years of chemical weapons teating.
Bad news: The Department of Defense has been dragging its feet regarding EPA's efforts to clean up Superfund sites on military land, and has been aided by EPA's lack of adequate funding and regulatory power under the Bush administration.
The Washington-Baltimore region still has one of the worst air pollution problems in the country, ranking among the top 10 metropolitan areas for smog and soot, according to a report from the American Lung Association.
The association's "State of the Air" report, to be released today, says air in this region remains contaminated by pollution that burns lung tissue and seeds it with harmful microscopic flecks. The Washington-Baltimore area was one of eight regions ranked among the worst 25 in three measures of pollution.
In the Washington area, officials say, the air is actually getting cleaner, resulting in fewer Code Orange and Code Red days than a decade ago. But experts say residents still aren't doing enough to reduce air pollution from the region's two largest sources of contamination: power plants and automobiles.
You can see the county-by-county breakdown of air pollution ratings here.
Gov. O'Malley announced over the weekend that he would bar the construction of wind turbines in the Savage River State Forest in western Maryland. The decision, which I have a mildly favorable opinion about, won't likely hinder the deployment of wind energy in the state, but neither will it be the last time the need to develop cleaner sources of energy butts heads with other priorities, like preserving wild spaces from development. Granted, those other priorities can blur into mere NIMBYism (see Ted Kennedy and the proposed wind farm off of Cape Cod), but there's no reason to think wind power projects are irreconcilable with them.
Tom notes, in passing, that commercial logging is allowed in state forests, so what makes wind power different? One could argue that logging, so long as it doesn't clear cut the entire forest, doesn't affect the natural beauty of the forest in the same way that a wind farm would, though that is admittedly a thin reed to base an argument on. As I said, I'm only tepidly in favor of O'Malley's decision -- there are, fortunately, other places in western Maryland to build wind turbines -- but the (non-aesthetic) impact of building wind farms would likely have been rather slight. By way of contrast, imagine if someone had discovered oil in Savage River and wanted to drill there...
Gov. O'Malley intends to announce a decision tomorrow about what the state will do regarding the possible construction of a wind farm in state forest land in western Maryland:
State officials won't say what the decision is in this long-running debate, which has divided environmentalists and drawn overflow crowds to public meetings in western Maryland and in Annapolis. But the governor has arranged to make his announcement at the breathtaking Monroe Run overlook in Savage River State Forest in Garrett County.
Some think he may announce a "split decision," saying that wind turbines may be permitted on state lands but only if they pass strict environmental review. The head of the Maryland Energy Administration, Malcolm Woolf, will be with O'Malley for the announcement, according to an invitation e-mailed to one person by Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. That makes some think O'Malley's likely to give a nudge of some sort to wind power - particularly since he succeeded in getting legislation passed in Annapolis doubling the state's long-range goal for renewable power produced in the state.
Rummage through those giant brains of yours and pull out some brilliant ideas! A resident posed a problem to the Takoma Park City Council at its March 24th meeting. A stay-at-home mom, she would like to drop by her friends’ houses or Jequie Park* and NOT get a ticket for parking in a permit-only zone. These zones are primarily to keep out commuter parkers, she said, so wouldn’t it make sense to allow city residents from other neighborhoods to park there for 2-3 hours?
She was following up on a letter to the council. In her letter she made a couple of suggestions: 1) the city make parking stickers available to city residents, and 2) that drivers leave an indicator on their dashboard showing what time they parked so that police could allow a 2-3 hour parking period.
Ask any Marylander what single thing, what one icon is most representative of Maryland, and the immediate answer is the Chesapeake Bay. Regardless of political leanings, Marylanders love the Bay. And Andy Harris hates it.
Or so it would seem from his votes. The bad part for Andy Harris of having sat in the General Assembly is that there is a record of his votes. And Harris has consistently voted the wrong way for years on bills that protect the bay.
The League of Conservation Voters are the experts here, so let's refer to them:
In 2003 and 2004 he got 5 of 6 scored committee votes wrong, including votes against a bill to increase penalties for those who damage wetlands and against a bill to reaffirm the critical areas protection of the Bay coastline.
That same pair of sessions, he received a 5% score from LCV, voting the wrong way on every single bill on the Senate floor. He even voted on the floor against the Bay Restoration Fund, which he supported in committee.
In 2005 and 2006, he again scored an overall 5% on LCV's scale, once again the second worst in the Senate, in the process voting against a bill to protect the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which was threatened by development.
In 2007, his rating rises to a whopping 18% on the strength of a unanimous floor vote, while still voting against a bill to stop hydraulic dredgers from wrecking coastal bays and against a bill to cut down on the amount of phosphorous pollution being dumped in the bay through detergent.
Harris has consistently voted against almost every Bay-friendly bill in the legislature. He voted against Bey-friendly bills even when the vast majority of his own caucus supported them. He voted against bills that support water quality. He voted against bills to help support the bay's oyster population. The Harris governing philosophy would turn the bay into a cesspool of pollution.
And in a state where the Bay is central to our identity, in a congressional district where it's central to the way of life, this makes Harris vulnerable. As active as LCV and other environmental organizations were in supporting Gilchrest, they need to come out swinging against Harris again this fall. It may not make Andy's big corporate donors happy, but it might ensure that the 1st district gets another congressman who actually gives a damn about the Chesapeake Bay: Frank Kratovil.
Update: As requested in the comments, a few words on Kratovil's environmental platform. Unlike Harris, who's been in the legislature and so has a long record of votes, Kratovil is a state's attorney and has had less opportunity to weigh in on environmental issues. But the environmental policy statement from his website is right on:
The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. Unfortunately, the beautiful views from the shoreline do not accurately reflect its health. Although the vast majority of Marylanders recognize the importance of protecting the Bay and other natural resources and readily acknowledge increasing air and water pollution and global warming, we have made little, if any, progress on the Bay or the environment in general.
Why? The answer is that despite the greatness of our nation and the knowledge of what needs to be done, we simply have not had the political will or leadership to do what needs to be done.
To make real progress on the environment we need aggressive, effective and unwavering leadership that focuses on farm practices, vehicle emissions, storm water controls, sewage treatment plants and power plants, not just here in Maryland, but also in our neighboring states. Until we convince our sister states of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia to take corrective action, the Chesapeake Bay will remain the dumping ground for other states polluted practices. I will work in Congress to develop a comprehensive federal strategy to require upstream states to enact stricter pollution laws to cut the flow of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay and will fight for the resources necessary to enforce those laws.
Making progress on the Bay and on the environment requires more than simply believing. It requires effective advocacy and consensus building to get the job done. If elected to Congress, I will partner with state officials, technology innovators, and concerned business leaders to forge a comprehensive multi-state solution to the environmental issues facing our District, region and country. With your support, I intend to be the most aggressive and effective environmental advocate in the history of the First District.
The General Assembly is moving to approve a new program to encourage the planting of native crops, with a view toward attracting bees, which have suffered massive losses to their population in recent years, to pollinate them. This is good news, but I have doubts it will be adequate to the scale of the problem. We're still not sure about what's been causing colony collapse disorder, but it's a good bet that any solutions will involve changing patterns of agricultural production -- in particular the way bees are currently trucked around from farm to farm while being fed high-fructose corn syrup, which is as unhealthy for bees as it is for humans. (See this blog post I wrote on the subject a while back.) But again, the cause of the bee collapse isn't well understood, so it's hard to say what policy, if any, could turn things around.
Today is the annual Environmental Lobby/Action Day in Annapolis. It is sponsored by the MD League of Conservation Voters. They want you to RSVP but I'm sure you can show up and participate today. So if you are looking for something to do on your day off today, head on down to Annapolis.
Where: 1st Floor Conference in the Miller Senate Office Building (11 Bladen St. Annapolis, MD 21401) Visit www.mdlcv.org for directions.
Noon - Registration 12:30 p.m. - Welcome 1:00 p.m. - Presentations information from top state officials (Governor O'Malley, Senate President Miller, Speaker Busch, and others invited) 2:00 p.m. - Expert briefings on the top environmental issues 3:00 p.m. - Fast pace lobby training and helpful tips 4:00 p.m. - Opportunity to meet your legislators and have your voice heard.
If I can find a place to plug in my laptop, I might try to do a diary live from the event...
I used to like John McCain. Really, I did. I mean, I never completely agreed with him, but I appreciated the whole maverick thing. He was someone who did what he believed in, screw the politics, and screw the rhetoric also.
In his quest to win the Republican nomination, though, he's sacrificed that whole speak it like it is, do the right thing motif on the altar of political necessity.
The latest instance of that? Despite his insistence that he supports clean energy, McCain neglected to vote last night for the Senate economic package, which included a range of tax credits designed to support the green economy and promote energy independence.
And there went my last shred of respect for the man.
Full text of the Sierra Club's blast e-mail about it after the fold.
About 500 people packed a public hearing in Western Maryland tonight to protest a plan to build 40-story wind turbines in state forests. A Pennsylvania-based company, U.S. Wind Force, would like Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to lease the firm about 400 acres of Savage River and Potomac state forests to build 100 wind mills. But before the state considers this, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources must decide on a general policy: are wind turbines an appropriate use of public lands?
"No!" was the answer from the crowd tonight in the Garrett College auditorium in McHenry. An overwhelming majority of people spoke out against the idea, saying the tall industrial machinery would forever mar the forested mountains that are the soul and economic heart of Western Maryland.
As Tom Pelton of the Sun notes, environmentalists in favor of the wind farms were nowhere to be found -- reflecting, perhaps, the conflicted interests at stake here.
Based on the Sun's writeup, and this letter from the Maryland Energy Administration, it looks pretty good:
Create an energy investment fund to help consumers purchase energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies;
Reduce energy consumption and peak demand 15% below current levels by 2015;
Increase the state renewable portfolio standard by 20% by 2022, with increased grants for solar and geothermal energy.
Key to this is something the Sun article only gets into halfway through: the fund will be paid for with revenue from the auctioning of carbon credits under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative -- i.e. a cap-and-trade sytem designed to fight climate change. According to Bardon Farris of the MEA, the auction could generate about $100 million in revenue for the energy investment fund, but there's nothing said about what percentage of credits would be auctioned. RGGI rules require states to auction at least 25% of their credits, but states can go beyond that level -- New York, for one, is auctioning off all of its credits. In general, the more credits auctioned off, the better -- giving away credits for free leads to windfall profits for power companies, a problem that has severely hobbled Europe's cap-and-trade system.
The question, however, is how this will affect the ordinary Marylander. Certainly, attaching a price on carbon dioxide will drive up the per unit cost of coal and natural gas, two major sources of energy in Maryland. But if these energy conservation and alternative energy measures are aggressively implemented, then overall electricity costs may well stay constant. Indeed, in many cases, energy efficiency saves money. And as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has noted, revenue from a carbon credit auction could easily generate enough revenue to offset any cost increases for low-income households -- both in electricity and in indirect costs.
And if you still think consumers will get a raw deal out of this energy (really a climate change) plan, consider the much higher costs of doing nothing about it.
The Washington Post had a pretty good editorial over the weekend asking the question: If Maryland does adopt slot machines this November, where is all the money going to go? The Post makes the case for considering the needs of Chesapeake Bay watermen before the needs of horse farms and race tracks:
The contrast is apt and could not be sharper. The watermen, who have made their living for generations from oysters, crabs and fishing, are as storied a subculture as the state's horse breeders, owners, trainers and track owners. The Chesapeake Bay blue crab is about as synonymous with Maryland as the Preakness or Pimlico and is probably enjoyed by a larger slice of the state's population. In its heyday a quarter-century ago, Maryland's seafood harvest accounted for at least as big a chunk of the state's economy as the horse-racing industry does today, according to Douglas Lipton, a resource economist at the University of Maryland. Yet it is the horse-racing sector that would be treated to a massive state-sponsored bailout if voters approve the ballot question. The watermen, meanwhile, are left to the mercies of the marketplace.
It's not clear to me why watermen should be the beneficiary of slots revenue more than any other sector of the economy, but the Post is right to note that the racing industry doesn't need the money. It's certainly not clear that slots would save horse racing in Maryland.
Drawing more attention to the plight of watermen (and waterwomen) has a great deal of potential for getting the public on board for tough Bay restoration measures, and it's something Bay advocates should do more of. The old "jobs vs. the environment" dichotomy is a false one, especially in this case: I fail to see how letting the Bay become more and more uninhabitable is good for the economy.
Off-topic for this blog, but Wired's blog Danger Room has a good roundup of links on who may have killed former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto.
Jay Hancock's most recent column dovetails neatly with last week's conversation about taxes and economic flourishing. In short, investing in education and infrastructure -- and paying the taxes to fund it -- does indeed make your state a better place to do business; just ask North Carolina.
Folks in Frederick County are probably aware of the proposed plans to expand Fort Detrick's biodefense labs, which do research on potentially deadly diseases that do not yet have known cures. Many people there are worried that the federal government has not done enough to ensure the expansion won't be a potential health threat to the region, to say nothing of the fact that it might not be a good idea to locate a new facility with lots of deadly toxins inside a mid-sized city. The County Commissioners have been talking about taking the government to court over it, but have now decided to put that off until the new year:
Frederick County's Board of Commissioners has postponed its discussion of whether to seek a court review of the environmental impact statement for expanded Fort Detrick labs until January.
Expansion opponents have said [the Army's infectious disease research lab's] environmental impact statement discounts public safety concerns and didn't adequately examine whether the lab should be built elsewhere. Fort Detrick officials have said the report complies with the relevant federal laws.
[Jan] Gardner is the only county commissioner who hasn't publicly stated how she intends to vote -- commissioners Kai Hagen and David Gray both support a suit, while [Charles] Jenkins and Commissioner John L. Thompson Jr. both oppose it.
Local columnist Katherine Heerbrandt had a piece on the controversy recently, taking Senators Mikulski and Cardin to task for not standing up for their constituents in Frederick.