'Green' voices lacking

January 13, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

For the first time in years, Anne Arundel County is without a conservation champion on any of the General Assembly's key environmental committees.

"It's the first time I can remember there hasn't been at least three people from Anne Arundel County on those committees," said former Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, an Annapolis Democrat who made a name for himself as an environmental leader. "It's quite a comedown."

No one on the 11-member Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee is from Anne Arundel County, which has the most shoreline in the state. However, the committee has several pro-environment members: Seven were endorsed by pro-environment groups.

And environmental activists say the committee remains pro-environment, even without Mr. Winegrad, who retired last year. He had led the Senate's subcommittee on the environment.

Environmentalists aren't as confident about the House environmental committee. Steve Carr, a Democrat and legislative lobbyist for the Severn River Association, referred to the committee as "the dead zone."

Democrat George W. Owings III is the closest Anne Arundel comes to having a voice on the House Environmental Matters Committee. His Calvert County district takes in four Anne Arundel precincts.

But he is considered a champion of tobacco growers, not "green" causes. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave him a rating of 20 percent for 1991-1994.

Mr. Owings challenged that rating, saying yesterday that it was unfair "to say I am more brown than green based on selected votes."

Conservation activists said Anne Arundel, with its Chesapeake Bay shoreline, ought to have a greater presence on the environmental committees, which would give environmentalists a voice in drafting legislation and deciding where the state should put its money.

Peg Burroughs, a former board member of the West River Federation and a longtime environmental activist, said, "There was a time when Anne Arundel County was a leader in sediment and erosion control, but we have been slipping."

Although last year's statewide campaign polls showed the environment was no longer a major concern among voters, Michael S. Calvin, campaign director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, noted "it's a huge issue in this area."

Del. Marsha Perry, a Crofton Democrat whom the league gave a 100 percent rating, spent seven years on the Environmental Matters Committee. She chose not to return this year. "I didn't want to spend two years beating my head against the wall," said Ms. Perry, now on the Judiciary Committee. "The committee took a decidedly conservative bent with the new leadership. I had tried to become vice chairman but was seen as too much of an environmentalist."

Environmentalists have long seen the committee as anti-environment. The league gave the committee chairman, Ronald A. Guns, an Elkton Democrat, a 40 percent rating.

Del. Virginia P. Clagett, a West River Democrat whose platform included several environmental issues, said she wanted to be on the House Environmental Matters Committee. "In fact, I didn't have any other choices," she said. However, she was forced to make another choice and ended up on the Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

Newly elected Del. Victoria Schade, a Pasadena Republican, turned down the environmental assignment.

"It was not my interest," said Ms. Schade, whose background is in economics. She headed for the House Economic Matters Committee.

Ms. Clagett and Ms. Perry say they will fight for environmental concerns. Ms. Perry said she felt a sense of freedom since leaving the Environmental Matters Committee. "I am freer to speak out on the way I feel about things," she said.

"If I were on the committee, with the gag rule I can't stand up and argue against the committee on the floor. Now I am free to do so," she said.

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