Environmentalists criticize Ehrlich

Campaign Ad Watch

October 19, 2002|By Howard Libit

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters began airing a television advertisement on the environmental record of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. this week. The league is the third independent group to purchase television ads during the gubernatorial campaign, and the ad is airing on Montgomery County cable television stations.

What the ad says: The 30-second spot opens with a blank chalkboard. "To most of us, Robert Ehrlich is a blank slate," an announcer says.

"That's why you should know Ehrlich voted against lowering arsenic levels in our drinking water, opposed tougher smog and air-pollution health standards, voted to force taxpayers - not polluters - to pay for cleanup of toxic waste sites and to weak enforcement of the laws that protect our air and water," the announcer says.

Each statement is written on the chalkboard as the announcer says it, along with specific congressional bills that Ehrlich voted on. Images also flash in the background of the chalkboard, including a child drinking a glass of water and smoke billowing from a smokestack.

"Fact is," the announcer continues, "Ehrlich has the worst environmental record in Maryland's congressional delegation. Care about Maryland's future? Then learn more about Robert Ehrlich's past."

The facts: Ehrlich voted in July 2001 against rules created by the Clinton administration for tougher arsenic water standards. Environmentalists pointed to studies by the National Academy of Sciences suggesting arsenic may cause several types of cancer, but the Bush administration and Republicans said there isn't enough scientific evidence to justify lowering the standard.

In 1997, Ehrlich co-sponsored legislation that environmentalists dubbed the "Dirty Air Bill," which would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to toughen ozone and fine-particle health standards.

Many business and industry groups contended that the tougher standards were too expensive for companies to be compliant.

Ehrlich voted at least twice in Congress for measures that would have paid for the clean-up of toxic waste sites with general tax revenues, rather than requiring money to be collected from the companies that produced the waste.

He also supported a bill in 2000 that would have exempted companies with fewer than 100 employees from having to clean-up toxic waste sites.

Although it is true that Ehrlich supported a proposal from the Bush administration to cut $25 million from the EPA's enforcement budget in 2001, the GOP plan called for that money to be used for grants to go to the states for local environmental enforcement activities.

Environmentalists said splitting up the money would dilute its effectiveness, and many states aren't vigorous in enforcement.

On the league's 2001 report card, Ehrlich agreed with the league only 21 percent of the time, the lowest percentage of any member of Maryland's congressional delegation. The league assessed 14 congressional votes.

Analysis: The blank chalkboard suggests to Washington suburban voters that they still have a lot to learn about Ehrlich.

The league hopes to capitalize on the strong environmental sentiment in Montgomery County, Maryland's largest jurisdiction and one of its most heavily Democratic.

The ad is part of the continuing effort by groups that have endorsed Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to paint Ehrlich as a conservative out of touch with Maryland voters.

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