Hopefuls to build on `green' foundation

Ehrlich, Townsend must follow Glendening, Smart Growth champion

Issues 2002

October 21, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Both candidates for governor talk about their love for the Chesapeake Bay -- the crown jewel of environmental causes, the centerpiece of much of Maryland's economy. It's not a tough position to embrace in a state where voters and officials on both sides consider themselves champions of protecting the air, the water and the land. But a closer look at their beliefs and records on the environment muddies the water, turning a seemingly simple issue into one a lot more complicated.

Conservationists and clean-water advocates support the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, saying she would protect the air, water and open spaces they say her opponent would sacrifice.

Farmers support the Republican nominee, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., saying he has proven that he will listen to their concerns, unlike the Glendening-Townsend administration. They say Gov. Parris N. Glendening has made them scapegoats for many environmental problems, including the fish kills that occurred several years ago.

And in the heat of the campaign, supporters of each candidate have accused the other of the biggest sin of all. Each says the other candidate wants to dump waste into the bay.

Townsend and Ehrlich agree that something has to be done about the environment. "It makes a difference who the governor is," Townsend said. "I think leadership matters. You can have laws on the books, and you can decide to enforce or not to enforce."

Says Ehrlich: "We have different philosophies for the environment. We have a common goal. There's just differences on how to get there."

The next governor will have to follow Glendening, one of the greenest chief executives in state history. He has made the environment a top priority and is the father of the state's landmark Smart Growth initiative, a way of directing the budget to prevent sprawl and encourage more concentrated growth.

"This was Governor Glendening's idea. It was his major focus during his second term," said John W. Frece, spokesman for the Governor's Office on Smart Growth. "He's made a national reputation on this. It is hard to imagine either of the candidates for governor will make this their major issue. It is almost certain whoever the new governor is will have his or her own priorities."

In the Glendening administration, Townsend wasn't given environmental responsibilities. Instead, she focused on criminal justice, character education and economic development.

Ehrlich has said he wouldn't make higher education and the environment his funding priorities, as Glendening did.

The League of Conservation Voters is unequivocal in its assessment of Ehrlich, the man who wants to be the first Republican governor of Maryland since the 1960s: He is bad news for the environment.

The group -- part of a coalition of environmental groups that will endorse Townsend today -- took out a television ad noting Ehrlich's environmental record.

Last year, he voted three out of 14 times for bills on the environmentalists' scorecard, voting against tougher standards for arsenic in drinking water, for drilling in the Arctic and against giving more money to the Environmental Protection Agency for enforcement. His 21 percent score last year was the lowest in the Maryland delegation. His lifetime score as a congressman is slightly higher, and his eight years as a state delegate earned him a 29 percent score from the Maryland watchdog group.

However, Ehrlich was a co-sponsor of a recent bill to spend $660 million over the next five years to upgrade sewage treatment plants, which many agree is the largest source of water pollution in the Chesapeake and its tributaries. He said he is committed to finding whatever money is needed in the state to supplement the federal project. His legacy as governor, he said, would be updated treatment plants that would drastically cut bay pollution.

"I would go bat in hand to Washington after Nov. 5 to get it done," he told The Sun's editorial board.

Townsend, who was the sewage attorney for the state in the 1980s, outlines in her 32-page blueprint a plan to put new caps on sewage discharges and to press the federal government to help build the infrastructure improvements.

Voters surveyed

Fifty percent of likely voters surveyed in the recent Maryland Poll said they think Townsend would be a better steward of the environment. Twenty-five percent say Ehrlich would be better. The remaining people were undecided.

"There's a great fear in the environmental community of Bob Ehrlich as governor of Maryland, and I use the word fear in its literal meaning," said Gerald W. Winegrad, a former Democratic state legislator from Annapolis. "His voting record has spoken very loudly that when you weigh someone on the green scale, he's on the low end of the scale. You can't change the spots on a leopard, regardless of what they say when running for office."

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