Reject Buhl

March 06, 2003

MARYLAND GOVERNORS always have won approval for highest-level appointments, even when the other party controls the General Assembly.

Adhering to that healthy precedent, Senate Democrats endorsed 17 of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s choices. But on the 18th -- Secretary of the Environment-designate Lynn Y. Buhl -- members of a Senate panel balked. They were right to say no, and their decision ought to be upheld by the full Senate.

The Ehrlich administration suspects partisan politics. But if the governor thought precedent would oblige the Senate to roll over on such passionate concerns -- clean air, clean water, the Chesapeake Bay -- he made an error in judgment. It would have been one thing to choose a secretary who was demonstrably committed to a balance between the environment and business, but Ms. Buhl's rM-isumM-i puts her in the camp of those who tilt toward polluters.

After serving as a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency and for the Chrysler Corp., she ran a 12-person regional office of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality -- a department bitterly scorned by environmental groups in that state in a series of evaluations titled "Dereliction of Duty." Her superiors in Michigan sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly in an effort to weaken clean air rules. One company was allowed to devise its own plan for preventing mercury from leaking into the Detroit River.

Asked at her hearing this week whether she disagreed with anything done during her tenure in Michigan, she said she couldn't think of anything.

Some critics contend this department should be run by someone raised on Old Bay and stripers. It's not a make-or-break qualification, but surely there are Maryland Republicans who have the qualifications and independence to stand up for the bay and the air if either were threatened by some policy proposal. If Ms. Buhl won't renounce a worrisome record in Michigan, would she speak up in Maryland?

Ehrlich administration officials are prepared now to play hardball: denying school construction funds to senators who vote no on this nomination, for example.

Critics have found Ms. Buhl a likable, qualified person, but not for this job. Mr. Ehrlich ought to reach the same conclusion. Maryland's environment deserves an uncompromised champion.

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