U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest is winning over environmentalists in the battle for the 1st District. But so is his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen.
No sooner had the national Sierra Club announced its endorsement yesterday morning of Mr. Gilchrest, than several Anne Arundel County environmentalists threw their support to Mr. McMillen.
"You have two candidates with very similar records, so I think some environmental groups are going with Tom McMillen, some are going with his opponent and some aren't taking any position at all," said Brad Fitch, a spokesman for the McMillen campaign.
A half-dozen activists from Annapolis, Pasadena, Glen Burnie and South Baltimore -- including state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, an Annapolis Democrat -- have endorsed Mr. McMillen.
They cited his efforts to win federal financing to dredge several North County creeks, his opposition to incinerators, and his role in preserving 9,000 acres at Fort Meade.
In supporting Mr. Gilchrest, the Sierra Club praised his work in protecting non-tidal wetlands, preserving public lands and opposing a high-span bridge over the Severn River.
Nancy Davis, political chairwoman for the group's Maryland and Washington chapter, said the club has "been thrilled with his effort" since it first endorsed him two years ago.
On the other hand, "we've been bitterly disappointed" in Mr. McMillen, Ms. Davis said.
The Sierra Club endorsed Mr. McMillen in 1988 but not 1990, she said.
While Mr. McMillen "has paid lip service to the issue of wetlands protection, our research and personal experience leaves us no doubt who the true environmentalist is," Ms. Davis said.
Mr. McMillen's backers are equally enthusiastic. "Tom was the one who cut through the red tape to get Cox Creek and Rock Creek dredged in Anne Arundel County," said Jack Broderick, a Pasadena resident.
"Tom McMillen has always been there when we needed him," said Doris McGuigan, a Brooklyn resident.
The 1st District -- a product of last year's congressional redistricting -- is the only one in Maryland to pit two incumbent representatives against each other.
The Potomac Chapter of the Sierra Club has 1,400 members living in the district, which includes parts of South Baltimore, much of Anne Arundel County and all of the Eastern Shore.
Ms. Davis said they announced the Gilchrest endorsement at Annapolis' Jonas Green Park, which overlooks construction of a new, high-span bridge across the Severn River, to highlight the congressman's environmental record. Mr. Gilchrest has taken a "leadership role" in protecting wetlands and has opposed construction of the federally funded bridge, Ms. Davis said.
Michael Hoffman, the Anne Arundel County club chairman, praised Mr. Gilchrest for challenging attempts by the Bush administration to weaken environmental protections by rewriting the definition of wetlands.
Mr. Gilchrest has authored a bill that would channel $500,000 to the National Academy of Sciences to draft a scientifically based definition of wetlands.
Wetlands are important because they filter pollutants out of storm water before it enters the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and help control flood waters.
Mr. Gilchrest also was one of 12 Republican representatives who voted to take federal money from the Council on Competitiveness, chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle, which has pressed Congress to ease environmental rules.
"Mr. Gilchrest has been willing to challenge his own party to do what is right for the environment," Mr. Hoffman said.
The Sierra Club is critical of Mr. McMillen's opposition to portions of the Clean Air Act and his support for a nuclear-waste disposal site in Nevada.
Mr. Fitch contended that Mr. McMillen has a better overall environmental voting record than his opponent.
He cited a 1991 report from the National Wildlife Federation showing Mr. McMillen voted with the environmental movement 80 percent of the time, compared to only 60 percent for Mr. Gilchrest.