O'Malley attacks Ehrlich on environment

In announcing a summit on topic, he says governor has risked public health

July 01, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN STAFF

Sounding ever more like a candidate for governor, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley hammered Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s environmental policies yesterday, charging that the governor has neglected Maryland's natural resources and that his policies are jeopardizing public health.

"It seems to me that the Ehrlich administration is not moving us forward when they cut our investment to protect our children from lead-paint poisoning or when they veto key environmental bills, choosing to protect corporate irresponsibility over public health," O'Malley, a Democrat, said. "I think Maryland can do better."

From a podium perched on the edge of the harbor in Locust Point, O'Malley announced that he will convene a summit of "environmental stakeholders" to brainstorm new ideas. He also announced a five-point "environmental bill of rights for Maryland's families," including "the right to breathe clean air" and "drink clean water."

Details about when and where the summit might occur are forthcoming, his staff said, as are the specifics of O'Malley's environmental policy proposals.

The mayor criticized Ehrlich for not supporting Smart Growth, his predecessor's anti-sprawl program, and for proposing the sale of some state land. "Are we serving the next generation or are we just trying to serve one candidate's interests in the next election with a secret plan to sell off state land and parks?" O'Malley said. "I don't think that anyone thought that's what they were voting for in the last election."

A spokesman for Ehrlich declined to comment on O'Malley's speech. In a statement, Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane criticized O'Malley for giving an environmental speech on privately owned land. O'Malley spoke at Tide Point, a development owned by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse. The company's chief executive is a supporter of the mayor.

"Martin O'Malley threw a wink to his liberal base with what was no more than a campaign speech designed to put a better face on his failures," Kane said. "The red meat his base should really want is hope and a better life for the people of Baltimore."

Though O'Malley didn't mention Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a likely opponent in the Democratic primary, Duncan's staff was quick to react to O'Malley's speech. They countered with details of Duncan's environmental record, saying he has helped Montgomery County preserve land for open space and fought for a state bill to reduce power plant emissions.

"In response to Doug Duncan's record of leadership and accomplishment on the environment, the mayor has put his finger to the polluted wind and declared himself a concerned environmentalist," said Duncan spokesman Scott Arceneaux.

O'Malley's decision to make the environment the subject of his second policy-oriented, campaign-sounding speech may indicate his team's belief that Ehrlich is weak in that area. The governor's job performance rating on environmental issues and protecting the Chesapeake Bay has dropped this year, according to polls for The Sun. In January, 44 percent of respondents described Ehrlich's performance as fair or poor. By April, 55 percent of respondents rated it so.

Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc., which conducted the polls, said that in next year's race for governor, "the environmental issue has the potential to be a fulcrum and shift votes one way or the other."

In Maryland, Haller said, the environment is "a unique, cross-cutting issue. ... You have increasingly Republican communities like Anne Arundel, which put the environment high on their list of priority issues. And I just think O'Malley sees the political potential to erode a chunk of the governor's base."

Brad Heavner, director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group, which advocates on behalf of environmental issues, was on hand for O'Malley's speech, though his group will not endorse a candidate for governor.

Heavner said he was pleased to see the environment getting some early attention. He described Ehrlich's environmental record as mixed.

While the administration opposed some legislation to protect the air in Maryland, Heavner hailed the governor's so-called "flush tax," a fee to help fix old sewage plants, as a "strong move forward for the Chesapeake Bay."

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