Glendening: environment's hope

ON THE BAY

August 13, 1994|By TOM HORTON

If only by default, voters concerned about the environment can make Parris N. Glendening the pick of the pack running for governor.

Early on, the Prince George's County executive went public with well-considered positions on the environment, making it a cornerstone of his campaign. His co-aspirants have made the environment a secondary issue, relegated it to a running mate or used it as a whipping boy.

For the record, all candidates profess love for the Chesapeake Bay. But such allegiance -- in a place where the state fish, boat, dog, fossil and university mascot are all bay-related -- is mostly notable when absent.

Some of Mr. Glendening's opponents in the September Democratic primary, such as Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and state Sen. Mary H. Boergers, have been supportive of environmental protection.

Ms. Boergers got 83 points of a possible 100 in the Maryland League of Conservation Voters ratings, based on her stands on 12 issues from 1990 to 1994.

Mr. Steinberg was state Senate president and considered helpful by environmentalists during passage of significant bay legislation in the 1980s.

Somewhat shabbier, but scarcely an arch-foe of Mother Nature, has been state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, with a 71 percent rating from 1986 to 1990 and a 50 percent from 1990 to 1994.

Ratings only tell part of the story.

Another part is that none of these three has ever made the bay or other environmental issues a priority, or shown leadership, creativity, or passion in that arena.

And it has taken a great deal of all those virtues during the last decade to get the Chesapeake to where it is not a "crisis" issue in this campaign.

But it remains a crippled ecosystem, with large segments of its wetlands, watershed forests, submerged grasses and fish life damaged or vanished.

This, combined with unrelenting population increase, makes the estuary like a recovering alcoholic, always capable of going over the edge if our guard is let down even briefly.

Also, we can expect little initiative from our neighboring states in the continuing bay restoration.

George Allen's new administration in Virginia is overtly suspicious of some of the fundamental notions underlying protection of the bay.

In Pennsylvania, the Republican gubernatorial candidate has a miserable environmental record. His Democratic opponent ignores environmental groups, figuring he's got their vote as the lesser of two evils.

It is fortunate for Mr. Glendening that there is more than his opponents' relative lack of credentials to recommend him as a governor for the bay.

I was impressed with the role he played, nearly a decade ago, in bringing other counties into agreement on implementing Maryland's then-controversial Critical Area law.

The law has been key to protecting the bay's remaining natural shoreline, and Prince George's County has made it a model program.

Under Mr. Glendening, the county was also first in the state to develop an innovative forest protection law.

Grasps growth management need

Mr. Glendening alone among the gubernatorial contenders has grasped how critical growth management is for Maryland's future.

This issue was articulated several years ago by the 2020 Panel, charged by all three bay region governors and the federal Environmental Protection Agency with looking at the long-range future of the Chesapeake Bay.

It concluded:

"If we continue with the same patterns of growth, it is virtually impossible that the quality of life in the region will get anything but worse . . . unmanaged new growth has the potential to erase any progress made in bay improvements."

Refocusing growth into more compact, less wasteful patterns is a monumental task, involving thorny issues of property rights and land use. No governor will resolve it in the next four years.

Mr. Glendening has made a modest start in his county, using tax incentives to favor renovation over new sprawl, linking urban revitalization with saving the countryside.

He says as governor he would review "every expenditure, every policy, every law," from school building to tax incentives to road construction, "to see if it promotes sprawl . . . or enhances existing areas."

He also grasps that while growth management won't succeed without a stronger state government presence, it won't happen without concessions to traditional local land use control or without allaying fears of landowners.

As for the leading Republican candidates, U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, they make me feel sorry for the Republicans I know who care deeply about the environment.

Remember Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr., virtually the father of the bay restoration program? And Arthur Sherwood, founder of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation?

And Russell Train, first director of the EPA and a strong supporter of the Chesapeake, and U.S. Rep. Rogers C. B. Morton, whose initials didn't stand for Chesapeake Bay, but could have?

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