Governor looks ahead at environmental issues

ON THE BAY

Glendening: Maryland's outgoing chief says there needs to be a greater `sense of urgency' over the health of the state's land, air and water.

July 19, 2002|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

This is the first of several columns between now and November on environmental issues the candidates for governor ought to be discussing.

It's early in the campaign, but neither Bob Ehrlich nor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the leading Republican and Democratic contenders, has indicated a willingness to make a major priority of improving our air, water and land-use problems.

Last week, I visited with outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening to discuss what he'd focus on if he had another term or two.

Glendening, for most of his eight years, has given the environment high priority. He took on issues like agricultural pollution and wasteful land use that caused other governors and legislatures to blink and walk away. He promised a lot and delivered on it, and then some.

I shouldn't write as if Glendening were history, because he is openly interested in finding a job after November that will let him continue his environmentalism.

"After 30 years in elective office, I'm looking forward to being able to speak out more pointedly and aggressively," he said. "We need a sense of outrage about what is happening; we need Rachel Carson II."

For a progressive state, the governor said, "Maryland's legislature is not that green. I find it frustrating that there's not more sense of urgency, a broader-based ethos" about environmental protection.

A top priority to broaden the environmental constituency, Glendening said, should be to pursue "environmental justice" for African-Americans and other minority groups.

"They are the ones whose communities most often get the landfills, the incinerators - the ones who have the higher cancer rates, the higher infant mortality," he said.

Engaging such minorities, Glendening said, means attending to a broader range of issues than traditional environmental concerns - "their constant struggles for fundamental things like education, racial equality, fighting poverty, jobs."

He said he plans to "become very active" on the environmental justice front, and has encouraged retiring state Sen. Clarence Blount of Baltimore to help him. "I was candid with him; there are not enough people of color on environmental committees," Glendening said.

On other priorities for the Maryland environment, Glendening said he would, if anything, be even more aggressive in preserving open space. (Maryland permanently protected about a quarter-million acres during his two terms.)

Many politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Townsend, Glendening's lieutenant governor, have indicated they would ease up on land preservation in light of the state's budget deficits.

"Budgets will bounce back," Glendening said. "The Maryland economy is fundamentally strong. I'd like to see 1 acre permanently preserved for every one developed, which I think Maryland has just been doing for the last two years."

He said it is also critical to revitalize existing communities (as Townsend has said she will do), to make them more attractive to growth that otherwise would spill into the countryside.

But it won't work, the governor said, to pursue just one end of his Smart Growth equation, which requires protecting rural lands from development while accommodating growth in and around existing towns and cities.

Another priority, he said, should be mass transit. "There's just no way Maryland's environment can handle the growth in roads, cars and air pollution without a profound shift to other modes of transportation."

Mass transit is one of a range of environmental needs dependent on help from the federal government, whose pullback in such areas under President George W. Bush, he said, has left him "angry and discouraged."

"I despair at what's happening. We need the federal government leading, not being dragged. A multistate effort [like restoring] Chesapeake Bay requires federal oversight. It is expensive. We cannot possibly fund mass transit without federal funds.

"And an extraordinary amount of pollution is airborne [about a third of the bay's major pollutant, nitrogen]; and the federal role in that, with cars and power plants, is immense."

Glendening is convinced, he said, "that people do care. They understand that kids' asthma rates have doubled in the last 10 years, and then they see Congress retreating on the CAFE standards [rules to make cars less polluting and more fuel-efficient, rejected this year by the U.S. Senate]."

For the bay's sake, let's hope Glendening finds an effective pulpit from which to continue his nationally recognized advocacy of Smart Growth and other environmental programs.

In the meantime, let's also hope to get a full-fledged and detailed discussion from the would-be governors on how they plan to leave this place cleaner and greener than they found it.

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