ANNAPOLIS – Many environmental advocates say Parris N. Glendening is their clear choice for Maryland governor, but political analysts say environmental issues and those advocates’ endorsements may not have a great impact on the race’s outcome.
“I think Glendening has done a phenomenal job working for the environment,” with efforts to combat the harmful microbe Pfiesteria piscicida and clean up the Chesapeake Bay, said Carla Pappalardo, a spokeswoman for the national environmental group, Clean Water Action.
Brian Parker, chairman of the political committee for the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, said he was impressed with Glendening’s actions against uncontrolled development.
Both the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action have endorsed the governor’s re-election bid, along with the Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters – local groups with ties to the national League of Conservation Voters.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R.
Sauerbrey has not received endorsements from any environmental groups, but a spokesman says she has her own plans to clean up the bay and combat sprawl.
But is the environment of major concern to voters in this year’s gubernatorial election?
Paul Herrnson, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, doesn’t think so. He said while in the past the health of the Chesapeake Bay has been a priority, it only ranks fifth or sixth with voters this year.
Brad Coker, an analyst for Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., agreed the environment “is not a defining issue of the campaign.” The state of public education and the candidates’ characters are being cited as more important, he said.SMART GROWTH
The governor’s Smart Growth initiative was enacted by the legislature in 1997 as an attempt to combat uncontrolled development through business incentives to encourage the re-use of older homes and offices, said Len Foxwell, a Glendening spokesman.
The administration announced in December 1997 a $40 million incentive program that encourages first-time home buyers to purchase older homes with a guaranteed mortgage rate of 4 percent. The program is expected to assist about 500 households in 34 different Maryland neighborhoods.
“Ellen has said that legislating where people are going to live is met with little success,” said Ron Franks, a former Maryland delegate and a Sauerbrey spokesman.
Sauerbrey supports improving safety, schools and job possibilities in urban areas as a way to combat sprawl, Franks said.
“People live where they are comfortable,” Franks said. “You can watch the television at night [and see] why Baltimore City is losing people – due to fear.”CLEAN WATER/PFIESTERIA
Glendening is campaigning on his environmental record and is promising to implement water initiatives introduced in January 1998 and approved during the legislative session.
One goal is to reduce nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by 40 percent over a five-year period. The plan is to reduce nutrient runoff from farms and nitrogen discharges from state sewage plants, said Ray Feldmann, a Glendening spokesman.
High nitrogen levels cause algae blooms, which remove oxygen from the water important to the survival of fish and other organisms, said Clinton Bradley III, president of the Talbot County Council and a member of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Citizens Pfiesteria Commission formed in 1997.
“If we help farmers control fertilizer [run- off] and upgrade [sewage] treatment plants, we end up with better water quality and less chance of Pfiesteria,” Feldmann said.
Maryland’s first recorded outbreak of Pfiesteria – microscopic single-celled organisms that feed on algae and bacteria in the water – occurred Aug. 6, 1997, in Somerset County’s Pocomoke River. An estimated 15,000 Atlantic menhaden, a blue-gray fish native to the East Coast, were found dead, many with bleeding lesions. Fisherman had reported similar lesions on the menhaden in the Pocomoke as early as October 1996.
Glendening closed all water-contact activities, except for boating, on the Lower Pocomoke River on Aug. 29, 1997, after preliminary findings suggested possible human health risks related to Pfiesteria. Glendening also closed King’s Creek of the Manokin River in Somerset County Sept. 10 and the Chicamacomico River in Dorchester County Sept. 14, when a significant number of menhaden were found there with Pfiesteria-like lesions.
All three rivers were re-opened in October 1997, less than three months after the initial outbreak.
Sauerbrey believes Glendening acted responsibly in August 1997, at the beginning of the Pfiesteria crisis, but created a media “hysteria” with prolonged river closures, said Franks.
He said there is no clear evidence that increased levels of nutrient runoff are the cause of Pfiesteria.
Bradley said there were multiple reasons and causes discussed by the Blue Ribbon Commission, including dry weather conditions. “It is a complex problem,” he said. “You can’t just point your finger at one thing and make [Pfiesteria] go away.”
Franks said rather than targeting nutrient runoff as a culprit of problems, it would be more productive to fund research into the cause of Pfiesteria and the bay’s lack of resilience – the cornerstone of Sauerbrey’s approach to avoiding further outbreaks.
Sauerbrey’s plan to clean the Bay and improve its resilience involves repopulating it with aquatic vegetation and filter fish, such as oysters and menhadens.
The commission discussed the effects of filter fish and determined that was more of a long-term solution to be explored later, Bradley said. It recommended the more immediate action of reducing nitrogen levels. Sauerbrey’s plan to help rebuild the bay also calls for a summit of governors to discuss the status of the Chesapeake Bay. And she wants to focus on the use of solid science as the basis for future environmental policy, Franks said. -30-