Readers Respond

READERS RESPOND

December 10, 2009

Petition hinders Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts

Since 2007, the Department of the Environment has made enforcing environmental laws one of our top three priorities - along with increasing transparency and improving our fiscal structure. Progress includes enacting standard operating procedures to correct enforcement delays, increasing enforcement activity 34 percent in fiscal year 2008 and securing two of the highest penalties ever collected for state environmental violations. We did this without additional inspectors or resources.

Over the past three years, due to the national economic recession and necessary state budget reductions, MDE reduced its budget by $27 million - equivalent to about a third of our annual operating budget. It's an unfortunate fact that MDE, like similar state agencies across the country, faces a shortage of resources. Our own 2007 fiscal study detailed the agency's growing monetary and personnel-related deficit.

Faced with this challenge, MDE restructured and prioritized programs that most greatly affect public health and the environment. We added new requirements and fees for coal combustion byproducts disposal, wetlands and air pollution.

The petition by University of Maryland law students for the Environmental Protection Agency to retract state authority over Clean Water Act permits ("Environmental groups call Md. water regulators lax, will ask U.S. to step in," Dec. 7) is surprising, given the fiscal issues and the caliber of this program. This same program just enacted the first-ever state controls on poultry litter and proposed one of the most progressive municipal storm water permits in the country - with no additional funding or staff.

Ironically, the petition itself will divert precious resources from the same program the petitioners seek to improve. While we appreciate the students' intent to draw attention to our resource shortage, this petition - based on a review of just one program - does not provide a complete picture of MDE's efforts to oversee more than 110,000 regulated entities.

MDE will carefully review the petition to make sure we have not overlooked any responsibilities. In the meantime, Marylanders should know that, during difficult economic times, the state is prioritizing our work to protect clean water, even as we ramp up our efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and work on the bay's EPA-mandated "pollution diet."

Shari T. Wilson, AnnapolisThe writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Slots belong at the track

When I voted yes on the slots referendum in November 2008, it was my thought (like most who supported the referendum) that Laurel Park was the intended site for the Anne Arundel County slots parlor. I told all of my acquaintances, family, friends and co-workers to vote for the referendum in order to get slots at the track.

The horse racing industry employs tens of thousands of people who pay taxes. I am one of them. The racing industry supports a huge agri-business, ranging from the farmers who harvest the hay, grain, straw etc. for the horses to breeders who have put a strong horse foundation in our state. It's the reason Maryland has such beautiful horse farms and green space. Racing supports tractor and farm supply companies, blacksmiths, veterinarians, feed suppliers, tack shops, saddlers, hot walkers, grooms, exercise riders, mom-and-pop stables, mutuel tellers, parking lot attendants, security guards and so on. We need our jobs.

Without slots at Laurel Park there will soon be no racing in Maryland, and unemployment will go through the roof.

If you were in our shoes, I'm certain you would agree slots really should be at the track. Maryland racing is not dead; it just needs to be competitive with our neighbors. Slots belong at the track where it is already zoned for gambling, not at an already crowded shopping mall.

Robert J. Lillis, LaurelThe writer is benefits coordinator for the Maryland Horsemen's Assistance Fund.

Don't boo the mayor

Whether or not Mayor Sheila Dixon stays in office is yet to be determined, but booing her when she appears at public events reflects more on the character of those doing the booing than it does on the mayor.

At this season of the year when many are celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, may we not heed his admonition referring to the woman taken in adultery, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." People of Baltimore, let's all of us behave better.

Susan Macfarlane, Baltimore

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