Green league backs O'Malley

At event, conservation group hears Democrat assail Ehrlich record

September 20, 2006|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley launched a wide-ranging attack on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s environmental record last night, calling a program to build new sewage plants a "handout for developers" and saying Ehrlich has "crippled" pollution enforcement.

"Who would have thought when we were paying our $3 a month ... into something called the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund -- paying our `flush tax' like good citizens -- that we were actually financing a new handout for developers?" O'Malley, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, told the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

During an annual dinner at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel, the nonprofit advocacy group endorsed O'Malley in his run against Ehrlich, a Republican.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the league has a "partisan agenda" that favors Democrats.

"The governor has achieved historic progress cleaning the Chesapeake Bay without them and looks forward to historic progress in the future," Fawell said. "I think the environment is best served if Mayor O'Malley focused on cleaning up trash and fixing up sewage spills in Baltimore City."

The mayor opened his speech before an audience of about 200 by criticizing Ehrlich's premier program, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, or flush tax. Passed by the legislature in 2004, the law requires $30 annual fees from homeowners across the state to help pay for improvements to sewage treatment plants.

The Sun reported last week that half of the first 10 sewage plants getting money from the fund have expanded capacity that will allow more development, including thousands of homes in sensitive areas.

"So we're paying more taxes to sit in more traffic and fuel more sprawl," O'Malley said. "Where's the common sense in that?"

O'Malley laid out his environmental program. He said it would include working with Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states in the bay watershed to create a Chesapeake Bay Financing Authority to raise money for grants to reduce pollution.

He promised to do more to fight sprawl -- such as the $1 billion Blackwater Resort project outside Cambridge -- and "set a goal of preserving more land each year than is consumed by development." He also said he would fully fund the state's Program Open Space.

O'Malley said he would sue power plants that spew air pollution, buy more alternative-fuel vehicles for state fleets, and restore funding to the Maryland Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources, which he said Ehrlich has "starved."

"This approach to the environment ... means we're all paying the price -- we're paying the price for a failed minimalist approach that makes government as weak as possible as quickly as possible," O'Malley said.

He said the Ehrlich administration lobbied with the power industry against legislation to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants. He also said Ehrlich's environmental agency has refused to enforce existing air pollution laws.

"This administration is all for law and order -- unless the law isn't what the special interests ordered," O'Malley said.

Fawell declined to respond to the criticism of enforcement. But he said the Bay Restoration Act will reduce nitrogen pollution into the Chesapeake Bay by 7.5 million pounds, which he called an historic achievement.

Fawell also said Ehrlich has doubled state funding for programs that encourage farmers to plant cover crops during the off-season to reduce fertilizer runoff into the bay.

In addition, he said Ehrlich opposes sprawl. "We are working closely with local governments to effectively and efficiently plan for growth in Maryland," Fawell said.

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