ANNAPOLIS – Hope floats, but on polluted waters, for Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich’s environmental agenda in the wake of a strong legacy left by Maryland’s outgoing “environmental governor” Parris Glendening.
Those who have worked with Glendening praise his environmental record and caution that committed leadership is needed to maintain and finance programs begun by him. Ehrlich has already promised to push for federal funding for water pollution programs.
“It certainly helps to have a Republican governor lobbying a Republican president and Republican congressional leadership,” said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, referring to the governor-elect’s intent to secure federal resources for upgrading Maryland’s sewage treatment facilities.
As congressman for Maryland’s Second District, Ehrlich authored legislation this year to allot $660 million to sewage treatment upgrades, which would reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from treated water released into the Chesapeake Bay.
“He campaigned on this issue . . . it was the centerpiece of his environmental platform,” Fawell said, noting that Ehrlich raised the issue well before Glendening signed an executive order Thursday.
Ehrlich’s proposal, backed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was identical to a bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore. Both await a final decision.
Ehrlich said Friday he was happy to hear about Glendening’s $4 billion water treatment initiative.
“The dollars are enormous. The federal government must play a role” in funding the upgrades, Ehrlich said.
The bay water quality issue is the top environmental priority for Ehrlich and Lt. Gov.-elect Michael Steele, but some environmentalists worry about the departure of a governor with such a strong environmental record.
“Glendening has been absolutely extraordinary on the environment and Smart Growth,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “But Congressman Ehrlich’s record has been not very strong on environmental issues.”
The Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which commended Glendening as a “national leader” and gave him a B+ in 2001 for his environmental work, gave Ehrlich a lifetime environmental score of 26 percent and called the 2002 gubernatorial race a “disappointing loss.”
But in a statement, the league noted Ehrlich had made significant pledges prior to his election and said, “We will look to the new governor to follow through on his campaign promises.”
Schmidt-Perkins also acknowledged Ehrlich’s promises, saying her organization was ready to work with the new governor.
“There are many people who have been concerned about his record and what that might mean to the environment,” she added, “but as far as I’m concerned that was his (record) in Congress and now it’s time for him to uphold the standards that the last six or seven governors have set, with very, very decisive actions.”
The last eight years under Glendening have brought programs such as Smart Growth, which helps control urban sprawl, and costly land preservation efforts.
“Last year, for the first time in state history, we preserved more land than we lost to development,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Charles Fox.
Glendening also helped create buffer zones around the Chesapeake Bay to protect its shore; worked to protect blue crabs and enacted legislation after a the Pfiesteria outbreak to control pollution from agricultural sources.
The governor’s successor “will face significant budgetary challenges in meeting the environmental commitments,” particularly for land preservation, Fox said.
“The next governor’s going to have to show a lot more leadership in the federal level in trying to secure additional federal support for our environmental programs” in light of the state’s budget crisis.
Ehrlich’s congressional record shows his work in some necessary areas. Aside from his sewage plant upgrade legislation, Ehrlich has voted for protecting wetlands, safer drinking water and land preservation. In 1995, he opposed efforts by his own party to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency.
As governor, Fawell said, Ehrlich would continue to support Smart Growth but “unlike the outgoing administration he would not overrule actions by local jurisdictions.”
Ehrlich may also work to restore oyster populations toward the twin goals of cleaning the bay’s waters through the oyster’s natural filtration process and creating more jobs for Maryland watermen.
The overriding theme of Ehrlich’s environmental platform, Fawell said, would be to “strike a careful balance between a healthy bay and a healthy economy.”
Glendening also worked along the same line, saying Maryland is a model of economic growth combined with environmental leadership. Their administration’s goal, said Steele, is to “make sure that in the process of protecting the environment, we’re not encroaching on the lives of people” who have made their living off the bay for so long. – 30 – CNS-11-15-02