Glendening deserves good grade Environment: Governor has delivered on his promises in this area, including rethinking Intercounty Connector, preserving land, moving to save crabs.

On the Bay

June 12, 1998|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

IN 1997, the non- partisan League of Conservation Voters handed Gov. Parris N. Glendening a detailed assessment of his first two years as chief steward of Maryland's natural resources.

Environment was a key Glendening campaign issue. The former professor's midterm grade, a B overall, included a D and a C+ in specific areas.

And he could forget about an A, the league implied, if he kept backing a billion-dollar highway bulldozing the headwaters of several Montgomery County streams, and kept ignoring the development of a 4-square-mile forest on the Potomac River.

In a polite reply last August, Glendening said the league's concerns were "being taken very seriously."

"I didn't think he would actually do anything," said Nancy Davis, chairwoman of the league, which has rated legislators (but never before a governor) for 20 years.

In fact, there was ample leeway for the governor to look the other way on both the Intercounty Connector highway and the Chapman's Landing mega-development on the Potomac.

The road, to run 18 miles between Laurel and Rockville, had been planned for decades, backed by powerful business and political interests desperate for any escape valve in the nation's second-most-congested traffic region.

As for the Chapman's Landing proposal -- environmental travesty though it was -- the developers had gone through virtually all the required legal hoops years before Glendening came on the scene.

But in recent months, the governor has offered $25 million to buy and preserve the bulk of Chapman's Landing, threatening condemnation if the developers don't negotiate in good faith.

And he has put the highway on hold, pending a study of alternatives. Anyone who heard him talk about the futility of more and bigger roads at a Youth Environmental Summit he recently convened would know Glendening is serious about finding other solutions.

In the next few weeks, the league is coming out with the governor's final environmental marks for his first term in office.

With no advance knowledge of the league's report, I'd guess he will get no worse than an A- (more about his minuses later).

Glendening deserves high marks on the environment, both on the merits of what he has done, and because he has done it at a time when attitudes toward environmental protection in

Congress and his own House of Delegates have ranged from conservative to hostile.

The governor may be dogged by allegations of dissembling in other matters. But on the environment, it's hard to find much he's promised on which he hasn't delivered.

Some key achievements during his first term include:

Clean air -- His veto last year of the legislature's cowardly bill to delay a long-overdue inspection program to clean up auto emissions was courageous.

The talk-radio crazies had whipped up a veritable "not up my tailpipe" frenzy. Despite threatened sanctions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency if Maryland delayed, the governor was really all that stood between foul air and people's lungs on this one.

Open space -- Glendening is the first governor we've had who truly understood how sprawl development, as opposed to directing growth into existing centers, pollutes more, raises taxes, disrupts farming and forestry, fragments wildlife habitat and makes it impossible to revitalize older cities and towns.

His 1997 Smart Growth legislation was no more than a first step toward reining in sprawl, but getting it passed was a major achievement; and a companion, Rural Legacy program will spend more than $70 million to preserve open space in the next five years, eventually protecting some 200,000 acres.

Also, the administration in 1996 tripled the size of a unique state system of wildlands -- areas to be left in their natural state. Acreage went from 14,000 to 41,000.

Chesapeake Bay fisheries -- A lot of people don't appreciate how gutsy were the moves by Glendening and his excellent Natural Resources secretary, John R. Griffin, to conserve blue crabs in advance of a population crash rather than waiting for a crisis, as we have almost always done in the past.

In the short run, their actions were controversial; but with evidence mounting that crabs are being fished to the max, their caution a couple of years ago seems even more laudable.

Pfiesteria -- It would have been fairly easy for the governor to say this one needed more study because much remains to be known about the organism that killed fish and caused memory loss in humans in three Maryland rivers last summer.

But Glendening seems to have grasped the big picture, that the outbreaks were a triple threat to the seafood economy, public health and the bay's ecology.

He staked out a comprehensive and aggressive strategy, refusing to sweep the threat under the rug as North Carolina and Virginia have done.

Ultimately, the legislature's actions to reduce suspected causes of Pfiesteria's eruption, such as poultry manure, were too weak; but Glendening pushed a bill this year that was much stronger.

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