Environment panel named

Short of new agency, 21-member group will be asked for recommendations

February 21, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Although his transition team recommended establishing a new, separate county environmental agency, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is taking a cautious approach, naming a 21-member commission to study the issue.

The Commission on the Environment and Sustainability will feature former County Council candidate and environmentalist Joshua Feldmark as the executive director. The county position pays $66,560 annually.

The group is to study what the county does now, what other counties and governments do, and report to Ulman by Aug. 31 with recommendations. Those recommendations could include the formation of a county environmental agency.

Ulman said he will not wait for the commission to propose environmental ideas.

"I will introduce strong, but straightforward, initiatives. This will not be a wait-and-see-what-the-commission-recommends" situation, he said.

Ulman called the committee "a collection of the best environmental minds in Howard County."

He decided on the commission, he said, because "there's not much sense to running in this first budget year with a one or two-person department. We want to take a very deep look at how to restructure. We don't want to rush in."

The executive noted that small sections of a number of different county agencies, including planning and zoning, public works and the Health Department, all deal with environmental issues. Having the commission will give him the advantage of a wealth of good ideas and outside perspectives without costing much money in an area he described as one of his "signature" initiatives.

In another action taken Monday, Ulman, a Democrat, signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement against global warming, joining more than 400 leaders of cities and municipalities in an agreement designed to bypass opposition from President Bush, a Republican.

Ulman, only the second suburban Maryland leader to sign the agreement, referred to "an absence of national leadership" on global warming because of Bush's refusal to sign the International Kyoto Protocol that took effect a year ago. The protocol is designed to rein in man-made gases that scientists believe are slowly raising the earth's temperature.

Environmentalists who gathered Monday at the Howard County Conservancy's headquarters in Woodstock applauded both actions, literally and in their comments.

"As long as he pays more attention to the environment, I think it's fine," Del. Elizabeth Bobo said about creating a commission rather than a department.

"It's a good start. We'll see where we go from here," said Cathy Hudson, chairwoman of the Howard County Environmental Coalition. She sees the commission's task as building a community consensus and "wider support" for environmentally friendly actions.

Lee Walker-Oxenham, conservation chairwoman of the county chapter of the Sierra Club, said she hopes a full county agency will come from the commission's work.

Feldmark is a political ally of Ulman's who lost to County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty in the Democratic primary for County Council in Ulman's old District 4, covering west Columbia and Fulton. But he also has an environmental background. He studied ecology as an undergraduate at Rutgers, and worked for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and for the Center for Environmental Citizenship, a nonprofit, private group. He also served for five years on the Columbia Association board of directors.

Ulman named Mark Southerland, principal ecologist for Versar, a global project management company, and Elizabeth Singer, vice president of the Howard County Citizens Association, as co-chairs of the commission.

Singer, who is also information officer for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said there is a strong link between good environmental practices and human health. That is important for the future of children, she said.

"We want to have a viable environment for them to live in," Singer said.

Commission members include several owners of businesses, builders, academics, the owner of Larriland Farms, and community activists.

Ulman said he is encouraged by the number of people on the commission who are in businesses that focus on the environment. He referred to what he described as a "false dichotomy" -- the idea that business interests are naturally in conflict with environmental interests.

"We ought to be able to grow jobs as well" as help preserve our environment, he said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

Commission members

Here are the members of the Howard Commission on the Environment and Sustainability:

Co-chairs are Elizabeth Singer, vice president of the Howard County Citizens Association and information officer for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, and Mark Southerland, principal ecologist of Versar, a global project management company. Members are:

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