Split votes on business, environment


Records: Organizations' score cards show that legislators usually get high marks on only one.

July 23, 2004|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

WHY AREN'T we moving faster to clean up Maryland's environment?

Republican legislators and pro-business politicians.

Why doesn't Maryland have a better business climate?

Elected Democrats and pro-environment politicians.

I base this on the latest legislative score cards from the nonpartisan Maryland League of Conservation Voters and the nonpartisan Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG).

Both organizations, along with just about everyone breathing, subscribe to the mantra that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.

But that often goes out the window when the votes are cast.

Consider the league's score card, covering votes in the 2003 and 2004 General Assembly sessions on such issues as oysters, renewable energy, septic tanks and shoreline protection.

Senate Democrats voted "right" 89 percent of the time, compared with 18 percent for Senate Republicans. In the House, Democrats outscored Republicans 92 percent to 32 percent.

MBRG's most recent roll call scored the 2003 legislative session on issues including employers' health care payments, tax changes, state procurement procedures and auto emissions standards.

Senate Republicans rated an average of 89 percent to Democrats' average score of 38 percent. In the House, it was Republicans 74 percent to 22 percent. (MBRG doesn't compile scores by party. I did it using their data).

Because issues chosen by both groups showed only a small overlap, there was no inherent reason a legislator couldn't score high on both business and environment.

But few do.

A sampling of the league's environmental stalwarts, and their scores, followed by their MBRG scores in parentheses:

Democratic Sens. Lisa A. Gladden, 100 (33); Brian E. Frosh, 100 (30); Paula C. Hollinger, 95 (33); and James Brochin, 100 (40).

Democratic Dels. Virginia P. Clagett, 100 (13); Dan K. Morhaim, 100 (14); and Peter Franchot, 100 (20).

MBRG publishes a list of John Shaw Award winners, legislators who have heavily supported business for four years or more. Of 54 Shaw awardees, 44 are Republicans.

A sampling of these, with their league scores in parentheses:

Republican Sens. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, 83 (13); Richard F. Colburn, 82 (6); Janet Greenip, 92 (6); and Nancy Jacobs, 92 (0).

Republican Dels. Anthony J. O'Donnell, 93 (11); Alfred W. Redmer Jr., 89 (0); and George C. Edwards, 83 (33).

So if we all subscribe to a healthy environment and economy, why such a split in our politics?

"I reject the notion that I'm anti-environment," says Stoltzfus, the Senate minority leader. His low league rating, he says, reflects his abhorrence of "heavy-handed regulation. ... Education, cooperation and incentives are a better approach."

"The idea that unfettered economic growth and a healthy environment go hand in hand is nonsense," says Howard Ernst - a political scientist at the Naval Academy whose recent book, Chesapeake Bay Blues, documents the political failure to protect the bay. "If you are going to protect the environment, some individual interests are going to get hit," Ernst says.

Ernst notes that statewide polling shows that the gap between Republican and Democratic voters' desire to protect the environment is "much, much smaller than the gap you see among their political parties."

"The vast majority of voters understand you can't protect a `commons,' the environment, without a strong government role, but increasing government's scope often gets seen as anti-business," says J. Charles Fox, former Maryland natural resources secretary and chairman of the league's board.

Fox, who has managed national water-quality programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, thinks environmentalists can learn more about "harnessing market forces" in their cause, such as the EPA did to reduce acid rain by letting utilities trade pollution credits.

Susan Brown, the league's director, says she is not surprised by the large and growing Democrat-Republican split in scores. "The environmental leadership Republicans used to have in the legislature - the Jack Cades, Vernon Boozers, Marty Maddens - are not there anymore," she says.

But the business-environment split "always surprises me. The issues we select don't force many choices between us and [MBRG], and there's just no way a healthy Chesapeake Bay is not part of a healthy economy," she says.

MBRG Director Robert O.C. Worcester generally agrees with Brown's last comment: "I've pondered [the split] many times. I do get feedback from business lobbyists that they feel environmentalists don't always use reliable science and are unnecessarily anti-business. So there's some bad blood that seems hard to dissipate."

Perhaps a start to rapprochement lies in the recent "flush tax" crafted by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the legislature to fund a major reduction in sewage and septic discharges to the bay.

Voting for it was a "plus" score in both the league's ratings and will be in MBRG's 2004 roll call.

"I see that vote as pro-business, a problem you need to fix that will only get more expensive if you wait," Worcester says.

"You've still got too many people on both sides that cringe when they hear the words `business,' or `environment'; I get a little beat up by both sides," says Republican Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, who gets reasonably good ratings from the league and MBRG.

Balance is key, she says. "Your average person wants a healthy environment and a job."

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