Leaders urge students to shield environment

Teach: State officials encourage pupils to fight environmental crime.

December 16, 2003|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The war against "Grime Crime" came to Chesapeake Bay Middle School yesterday, and the teachers were Maryland's top officials in law enforcement and the environment.

Speaking to two dozen sixth-graders, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and acting Secretary of the Environment Kendl P. Philbrick talked about environmental crimes and the importance of reporting illegal dumping and other pollution.

"You need to get somebody involved that can do something about this and turn it around, so it doesn't get worse," Philbrick told the pupils at the Pasadena school. "We all have to do our part."

The pairing of the Republican environmental secretary and Democratic attorney general launched a new curriculum unit on environmental crimes developed by the Regional Environmental Enforcement Associations. Maryland officials want to try it out in middle schools here.

The event also highlighted Philbrick's efforts to persuade Maryland lawmakers and the staff of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to make him the permanent environmental secretary.

Philbrick has served as acting secretary since the Maryland Senate rejected Ehrlich's nominee, Lynn Y. Buhl. But some environmental advocates and Democratic legislators have been reluctant to embrace Philbrick, noting his extensive corporate background and lack of experience in environmental regulations and enforcement.

During yesterday's school visit, Philbrick and Curran were joined by lawmakers from Anne Arundel County's 31st District -- including Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, chairman of the Senate's Executive Nominations Committee.

"I'm willing to give him an open mind, a chance," Jimeno said yesterday after talking privately with Philbrick and watching some of the lesson. "He's been there a year, he's brought some stability to the department, and his department has been very responsive and accessible when we have had problems in our district.

"It shows he's aware of what happened with Lynn Buhl and is trying to fix the perceptions," Jimeno said.

Curran also praised Philbrick's work, saying he's "doing a good job" and noting that the two agencies are cooperating well.

For yesterday morning's visit, Philbrick and Curran effortlessly alternated in discussing the environmental consequences of illegal pollution and how the state investigates and prosecutes offenders.

"We work together to protect the environment," Curran explained to the class. "Both agencies are needed."

Curran described a Prince George's County case in which the owner of a 50-acre parcel moved to Florida, and a neighbor -- pretending to own the land -- charged people to dump used tires and asbestos there. The state secured a court order to videotape the dumping on the property and filed charges against the perpetrator.

"I liked how they brought in actual examples for the students from this area," said science teacher Larry Zoller, who helps direct an after-school environmental club at Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to hearing Curran and Philbrick, the children checked out a Grime Crime Web site and comic book from the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network (www.regi onal associations.org/grime crime.cfm).

"I learned a lot about pollution and what you should do if you see something polluting," said 11-year-old Katie Kocovinos. "I never knew before about how bad dumping tires is for the environment."

Curran and Philbrick are scheduled to teach at least one more class together before the start of the General Assembly session this winter, and then will resume teaching in the spring. Some members of their staffs are to begin joint school visits, too.

"We're targeting the sixth grade because environmental studies are part of the sixth-grade curriculum," said Susan Scotto, Philbrick's chief of staff. "We're hoping that if this is successful, we can talk about making this unit part of the permanent curriculum."

Philbrick said that during the classroom visits, he's finding that environmental lessons can pay dividends.

"This is the age when they establish their habits," Philbrick said. "It's a lot easier to change the environmental habits of a sixth-grader than the environmental habits of an adult. Kids are the ones who come home from school and encourage their parents to start recycling. That's where you can make a difference."

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