Environmentalists seek greenest candidate CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

August 21, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Who's the greenest of them all?

With the Chesapeake Bay's restoration at a crossroads, and with a growing backlash to government regulations, environmentalists in Maryland want to know which candidate for governor loves Mother Nature the most.

The answer? Depends on whom you ask.

Almost all the hopefuls profess their abiding affection for the bay, for clean air and water. But some are louder than others in declaring their ardor. And none is willing to pledge more money for restoring the bay, despite projections by the Schaefer administration of a $96 million annual shortfall in the bay cleanup effort.

Some even espouse a kind of "tough love," vowing to protect the bay but strip away "excessive" environmental regulations they claim are strangling the state's economy.

And one candidate -- Republican Helen Delich Bentley -- refuses to talk about the environment at all, at least for now.

For many of the state's leading activists, there's no contest. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters endorsed Democrat Parris N. Glendening last month, citing his record as Prince George's County executive and his embrace of the environment as one of his top priorities if elected governor.

"I think there's a clear choice," said John Kabler, a league board member and Clean Water Action activist. "We're going to lose the bay if we don't do something."

Mr. Glendening, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, calls for expanding recycling, improving mass transportation, and reducing air pollution in the Baltimore and Washington areas. He also pledges to curb suburban sprawl by directing new development toward cities to protect the state's dwindling farms and forestland.

Such talk warms the hearts of environmentalists, who have had a seesaw relationship for the past eight years with Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Environmental leaders opposed Mr. Schaefer when he first ran, then endorsed his re-election.

But activists who live in Prince George's accuse their county executive of being too cozy with developers in the rapidly growing Washington suburb, and of pushing for a massive trash incinerator over community opposition.

"I cannot vote for a man who represents a policy that is harming the county," said Frank Hodal, an Adelphi resident and leader of the Sierra Club's Patuxent group. Mr. Hodal, a clothing marketer, criticized Mr. Glendening for supporting a massive waterfront development on the Potomac River called Port America.

The land was cleared, but the project has not gone forward, Mr. Hodal said, so that "what you've got now is a mudslide instead of a forest."

Mr. Glendening countered: "You cannot please or accommodate everyone, and you shouldn't try." He defended the Port America project, saying it was consistent with his attempt to direct development away from sensitive areas. Development was to be focused at the Potomac site to preserve up to 100 square miles of land along the Patuxent River.

On incineration, Mr. Glendening said that environmentalists persuaded him to drop that in favor of enhanced recycling and expansion of the county's existing landfill. The county now has the highest recycling rate in the state, he said.

The other three Democratic contenders say their support for the environment is second to no one's.

American Joe Miedusiewski, a state senator from Baltimore, cites his running mate, fellow state Sen. Bernie Fowler of Calvert County, as evidence of his commitment to saving the bay. Mr. Fowler, former chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and a longtime advocate of restoring the Patuxent, one of the bay's major tributaries, will be put in charge of environmental and natural resource issues, Mr. Miedusiewski says.

"Bernie Fowler is an environmental champion," acknowledged Joan S. Willey, head of the conservation league. But "you can't count on that to carry any weight," because lieutenant governors are powerless, she said.

Mr. Miedusiewski and Mr. Fowler earned only about average scores on the conservation league's rating of the 1994 legislature. Mr. Miedusiewski sided with environmentalists on six 12 key votes, the league said, supporting growth management and reforestation while backing property rights.

Like Mr. Glendening, Mr. Miedusiewski says he supports refurbishing urban areas, increasing mass transportation and making sure that growth in the state occurs around existing development.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg recalls that as president of the state Senate he won passage of the 1984 Critical Area law restricting bay shoreline development, and steered a ban on phosphate detergents through the legislature.

But state Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and the legislature's leading environmentalist, said that while Mr. Steinberg helped pass some "green" laws, including the state's recycling law, "Mickey has not said much on the environment. It wasn't one of his issues."

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