Steele presents environmental agenda, record

Skeptics criticize Ehrlich moves on land preservation, pollution

September 07, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele unveiled an environmental platform in his campaign for Senate yesterday that centers on cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and promoting clean air and open space.

But some of his promises and stated accomplishments -- linked to his position in the Ehrlich administration -- were met with skepticism from some of the state's leading environmental groups.

"Sounds like he's kind of touting the governor's record as his own, and to date the governor has a poor environmental record," said Dawn Stoltzfus of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Steele mentioned as accomplishments his support of Program Open Space and the Healthy Air Act, assertions that rankled environmental groups. The Ehrlich administration has been criticized for redirecting funds for the land-preservation program to cover budget shortfalls. And it fought an act to reduce pollution from power plants until legislation passed this year by veto-proof margins.

Steele does not face serious competition in Tuesday's Republican primary. In November, he'll face the winner of the Democratic primary, in which the two leading candidates are U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and director of the NAACP.

Standing on a sandy beach against the backdrop of the Chesapeake Bay in Stevensville, Steele was surrounded by a bevy of Eastern Shore officials, including U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest. Steele called for more federal money to promote technology for environmental protection, to support local lead abatement programs and to fully fund the Brownfields Revitalization Act.

"We have a lot of work to do. It is time for real issues to have a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., so we can really focus on getting something done, for the bay and for the environmental protection of our state," said Steele.

The head of the Maryland Democratic Party called Steele's agenda "a joke."

"By the record of his administration in Maryland and his allies in Bush's Washington, Steele will side with huge corporate polluters over the environment every time," said state party Chairman Terry Lierman.

As part of his agenda, Steele said, he would work to enforce the federal Clean Air Act.

That promise struck Janice Graham, legislative chairwoman for the Sierra Club's Maryland chapter, as empty. She pointed out that the Ehrlich administration blocked Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. from joining other states in challenging federal regulations that environmental groups said hindered efforts to curb air pollution from power plants.

"It's amazing, if he'd done any of these things as lieutenant governor, we'd be a lot farther along," said Graham, whose group has endorsed both Mfume and Cardin.

Mfume's campaign said one glaring omission in Steele's agenda was his failure to address global warming. Mfume "was actively involved in addressing the threat to the ozone layer when he was a congressman," said Steve Marinoff, a campaign spokesman.

Oren Shur, a spokesman for the Cardin campaign, said, "This underscores the difference between Michael Steele and Ben Cardin. Steele held a 30-minute press conference on the environment, Ben Cardin has a 30-year record of strengthening the environment and protecting the Chesapeake Bay."

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