ANNAPOLIS – More than 20 Maryland legislators introduced a bill last week that would help them look to the stars.
The bill, sponsored in chief by amateur astronomy buff Delegate Nancy Kopp, D-Montgomery, will set up a task force to study light efficiency and the effects of light pollution — wasted light that washes out the night sky.
Nearby, Washington and Virginia have already passed similar measures and stargazing advocates are working with officials in Howard and Montgomery County for local legislation.
Street lights, billboard lights, and security lights contributed to the increasing light pollution over the past 50 years. The typical 175-watt security light, for instance, wastes 30 percent of its light and sends it skyward, according to the International Dark Sky Association.
“Lighting should go down, not up, ” Kopp said simply.
“If you look at the sky, you really can’t see much anymore,” said Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery, another sponsor. “As we continue to sprawl outward, we continue to add lights.”
Montgomery County stargazers successfully fought to prevent Discovery Communications from beaming light from atop its soon-to-open Silver Spring headquarters.
Now, they hope, a task force will do even more for heavenly views.
There’s already no Milky Way, no Little Dipper and definitely no Big Dipper you can see with the naked eye in downtown Baltimore, said Melissa Jan, Maryland Science Center observatory coordinator.
Although Baltimore residents should see about 4,000 stars, Jan said they “can only see about 20.”
Even with a telescope, she said, “we’re lucky if we can make out the seven stars in the Big Dipper. And there’s only one nebula — the Orion nebula. The others are gone.”
But the issue is deeper than looking at stars.
“We’re wasting money to shine light at the sky,” said David Cucum, founder of the Maryland International Dark-Sky Association, an organization that works to end light pollution. Wasting light wastes energy, too, he said.
More than $1.5 billion is spent on producing light that has no security or utility value at all, the dark sky association says.
But Fred Hoover, Maryland Energy Administration director, said it’s too soon to determine what’s wasted “until we know what level to maintain lights and still provide safety.”
Advertisers might have a problem changing billboards lighting, Hoover said. And Maryland residents might have security issues with lessening light at night.
Lights that are too bright work adversely for security, causing glare and darker shadowed areas, Kopp countered.
Another reason to fight light pollution, Kopp and other bill supporters said, is because outdoor lights pose problems for migratory boards, and senior citizens have a problem seeing at night because of the glare.
The task force would bring public utility officials public safety officials, environmental experts, the Maryland energy administration as well as state and local government agents together to discuss these concerns.
“I want to get everyone around the table and kind of hash things out,” Kopp said.
Even though the problem is not one-dimensional, it’s astronomers who are most concerned.
Leith Holloway, member of the National Council of Astronomers in Rockville, often travels to the Hopewell Observatory in Haymarket to get a good view of the stars.
He said he wants children to see the same constellations he used to be able to see. “It’s sad. There are kids in this town that have never seen the Milky Way,” Holloway said. In saving light, he said, “you not only save money, you get back something you lost.” – 30 – CNS-2-14-01