December 5, 2011

We've moved!


B'more Green has moved to a new home on the web.

We've switched to a more reliable blog platform, and that's meant having to get a new address, or url. Nothing else has changed, really.  We'll still be sharing plenty of news and analysis there about the environment, the Chesapeake Bay and green living. 

The new address is:  Be sure to update your "favorites" links. 

And for RSS subscribers who like to stay on top of B'more Green, you need to sign up here to keep getting the latest posts sent to you: 

So don't be a stranger - come on over and check out the new digs!

(Baltimore Sun file photo)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:03 AM | | Comments (1)

December 4, 2011

"String of pearls" honors land conservation

If you think of open, undisturbed land as a precious jewel, you might like this idea.  Conservationists have put together what they call the "String of Pearls" project honoring landowners in the Cheapeake Bay watershed who've permanently preserved their property from development. 

The idea behind the effort, which was begun in 2009, is to foster the creation of corridors of untouched land and water where wildlife can flourish.  Lands protected in perpetuity are the "pearls," which supporters hope will eventually be strung together to provide wildlife with corridors in which they can safely roam, as they're wont to do.

Last year, six preserved tracts in Anne Arundel County were celebrated. This year, the project and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy are recognizing five Shore landowners for their acts of preservation.  Three of them are in Talbot County and two in Caroline County, where my family first lived when we moved to Maryland more than 25 years ago. The photo above is of Robins Creek Preserve, more than 200 acres bordering the Choptank River and Robins Creek, set aside in 1999 for wildlife habitat.

To see photos and read about all the lands in the project thus far, go here.  The "pearls" are fairly scattered now, but proponents aim to hold at least one ceremony a year honoring more conservation-minded stewards of the land.  Perhaps in time enough tracts will be perserved that those pearls will be strung together in a solid necklace of protection. 

This year's ceremony, free and open to the public, is at 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, in the Bradley Room of the Talbot County courthouse in Easton.

(Photo of Robins Creek Preserve courtesy String of Pearls Project)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 7:05 AM | | Comments (0)

December 2, 2011

Saving menhaden, Chesapeake Bay fishermen


Can the Atlantic coast's menhaden population be restored without hurting Chesapeake Bay commercial fishermen?

That remains to be seen, as the video above makes clear. It was produced by students in the environmental law class at University of Maryland law school.  Yup, that law school - the one in the crosshairs for the Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by its environmental law clinic against an Eastern Shore farm couple and the Perdue poultry company. The clinic's catching hell for not representing the farm couple as well as - or instead of - the Waterkeeper Alliance, the client for whom it filed the suit.

On this issue, the students' video does a good job of presenting both sides - the argument for conserving, and the concern about how a catch reduction could hurt Bay fishermen and crabbers. Of course, the class video project is an academic exercise, so you would expect the students to examine all sides in a dispute. In the real world in which the clinic operates, lawyers represent one client at a time, and can't ethically work both sides of a case.

Thanks to Joey Kroart for sharing. 

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 9:59 AM | | Comments (0)

December 1, 2011

Arsenic, lead found in fruit juices


Fruits are healthy to eat, experts agree, but new research by a consumer group shows some fruit juices - a staple in children's diets - contain toxic arsenic or lead.

There are no federal limits now on either contaminant in fruit juices.  But according to Consumer Reports, about 10 percent of the juices it sampled from five different brands had total arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking-water standards.

One in four samples checked also had lead levels higher than the Food and Drug Administration's limit for bottled water of 5 parts per billion.

While the FDA has dismissed previous reports of arsenic in apple juice by saying the contaminant was a harmless organic form of the chemical, Consumer Reports says most of the arsenic it found was inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is calling on the FDA to set arsenic and lead limits for apple and grape juices, which are frequently consumed by children.

It's not clear how the contaminants got into the fruit juices, but environmental activists point out that one source may be coal-burning power plants which emit arsenic and other toxic pollutants into the air.  They contend this is another reason for the Obama administration to move forward with new power-plant pollution regulations drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency

Some power companies and their supporters in Congress oppose the rules, contending the costs of compliance will be too high, forcing the shutdown of some power plants and jeopardizing electrical reliability.  Others point to the health benefits and say the fears of brownouts are overstated, noting that some power companies such as Baltimore-based Constellation Energy support the rule because they have already upgraded their plants' pollution controls to reduce toxic emissions.

For a list of brands tested and results, go here.

(Above: Student sipping apple juice at Mt. Washington Elementary School. 2005 Baltimore Sun photo by Kenrick Brinson)


Posted by Tim Wheeler at 10:17 AM | | Comments (0)

Going Gaga over recycling


Digging back through emails piled up in my inbox, I want to share some "good news" - this recent announcement of the winners of the 10th annual "Rethink Recycling" contest sponsored by the Maryland Department of the Environment. 

The grand prize this year went to Amber Robinson from Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore for her portrait of Lady Gaga, made from soda bottle caps, utensils, and compact discs.  Pictured above with her work, she won an iPad 2, one of several prizes donated by sponsoring businesses and institutions.

Twenty-nine different high schools across the state displayed 65 entries in the contest, which challenges Maryland students to use recycled materials in creating sculptures. 

Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers praised the students and teachers for doing their part to promote recycling by "turning everyday trash into beautiful works of art."

"If not for the creativity and energy of these students, the materials used to make these sculptures would have ended up as trash that pollutes our air, land and water," he said.  According to MDE, current recycling efforts have reduced waste going into landfills and to incinerators by 40 percent.

Other winners in various contest categories included:

Crystal Blackwood, South Carroll High School, Carroll County, for building a towering giraffe  from records, compact discs, PVC pipe, and cardboard.

Margaret McGill, C. Milton Wright High School, Harford County, for creating an anglerfish out of compact discs, nails, and light bulbs.

Olivia Borum, South Carroll High School, Carroll County, for designing a miniature dress made of reused puzzle pieces and buttons.

Lauren Johnson, Smithsburg High School, Washington County, for crafting a great blue heron from chicken wire and zip ties.

To see more photos of the prize-winning recycled art, go here.

I'll be thinking of the sculptures crafted by these creative high schoolers every time I haul my recycling bin to the curb!

(Photo Amber Robinson and grand-prize winning Gaga sculpture, courtesy MD Dept of the Environment)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 9:44 AM | | Comments (0)

Another tiff brews over Constellation ash landfill

A new dust-up is brewing over the coal-ash landfill on Hawkins Point in South Baltimore.

Nearby residents, who waged a vain fight to keep power plant waste out of the landfill, now are girding to oppose a proposal to expand it.

Constellation Energy recently began dumping ash there from its three local coal-burning plants, Brandon Shores, H.A. Wagner and C.P. Crane. Meanwhile, the company has applied to the Maryland Department of the Environment for a permit to operate the disposal site and to expand it, bulldozing an acre of wetlands in the process.

The 65-acre site on Fort Armistead Road had been owned by Millenium Inorganic Chemicals, but Constellation bought it about the time MDE approved depositing coal ash there.  Now the energy company wants to expand the landfill on the tract from 28 acres to 32 acres and raise the height by up to 50 feet (from 220 feet above mean sea level to 270 feet, or 156 feet above ground level.)

Some environmentalists and Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold have already weighed in against the expansion.  Leopold, who's maintained a ban on ash disposal in Arundel since an earlier Constellation dump contaminated Gambrills residents' wells, wrote a letter urging the state to deny the permits for the expansion.  The ash contains toxic residues, some of them carcinogenic.

"We weren't crazy about this - we fought it," Mary M. Rosso, a longtime activist from Glen Burnie, said of the landfill.  Now the expansion proposal "just drives me crazy," she added.

She and other residents have dueled with Constellation before over ash disposal and have long complained about air and water pollution from other facilities in the nearby industrial areas of South Baltimore.  This time, she said, she and others are particularly upset about the prospect of losing an acre of noontidal wetlands.

Continue reading "Another tiff brews over Constellation ash landfill" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:33 AM | | Comments (1)

November 30, 2011

Bay foundation: Video shows fracking sites polluting air

Natural gas wells and related processing sites in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia are spewing "invisible" plumes of air pollution, according to an investigation by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

The Annapolis-based environmental group hired an infrared videographer to check 15 natural gas drilling and compressor sites in the Marcellus shale region of the three states.  The special camera picked up the heat signature of gases billowing into the air from 11 of the sites, or nearly three out of four.

Robert Howarth, an ecologist at Cornell University in New York, said the gases being released in the video most likely contained methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other other hydrocarbons, including possibly benzene and toluene.

“This would certainly contribute to smog, ozone… and it’s putting out carcinogenic substances," Howarth told the foundation, according to a post by Tom Pelton on CBF's blog Bay Daily.  “I would not want to be breathing the air downstream of those rigs.”

Howarth co-authored a study last year that estimated hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Marcellus shale formations allows 4 to 8 percent of the methane to escape into the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. 

The foundation contended in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that its video shows air pollution from hydraulic fracturing is not being adequately controlled and a new rule EPA is considering to limit methane emissions does not go far enough.

Continue reading "Bay foundation: Video shows fracking sites polluting air" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:30 AM | | Comments (7)

November 29, 2011

New farm nutrient rules pulled back


Feeling the heat from farmers and environmentalists alike, the O'Malley administration has put on hold new rules on how and when farmers can fertilizer their fields.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture had planned to publish new "nutrient management" regulations on Dec. 2, but has now postponed them in order to meet with critics, including municipal officials.

"We were contacted by stakeholders on all sides (ag, enviros, locals) and asked to discuss a little more the draft regulations," MDA spokeswoman Julianne Oberg said in an email. "We're affording that opportunity, and will be resubmitting soon."

The new rules, aimed at reducing nutrient pollution of Chesapeake Bay, have been stirring furor since they were first floated last summer. Farmers complained about proposed limitations on putting animal manure in their fields in fall and winter, and about another provision essentially requiring fencing livestock out of streams. Municipal and county officials, meanwhile, objected to another provision barring the spreading of sewage sludge on fields in winter, which they said would require costly storage facilities.

Environmentalists joined the critics a few weeks ago, charging that agriculture officials had watered the rules down unacceptably in an attempt to mollify other critics.

Continue reading "New farm nutrient rules pulled back" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 3:00 PM | | Comments (2)

A pause for PlanMaryland?

Under pressure from conservative lawmakers, state planners have agreed to delay their disputed blueprint for Maryland growth until after they get a little more feedback on it in Annapolis.

Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall confirmed a report in The Washington Times that he's agreed to hold off delivering PlanMaryland to Gov. Martin O'Malley until after he's met with the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Dec. 12.

Hall said his staff has been working for months to generate a third "full draft" of the statewide growth plan that incorporates or responds to the outpouring of comments and criticism of it from rural and suburban officials.  That's still on track, Hall indicated in an email, but added that a brief postponement to brief lawmakers one more time would be "fine."

Administration officials have said the document is merely the long-delayed fulfillment of a 1974 law calling for a state growth plan, so does not require legislative approval.  They've said it won't usurp local planning authority, just better coordinate state spending on roads and other infrastructure under Maryland's longstanding Smart Growth policies, which call for preserving open space by encouraging development in and around existing communities. 

Local officials contend, though, that PlanMaryland may effectively take away their traditional control over development decisions if the state does deny funding or permits for projects that don't mesh with the plan.  State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican representing the upper Eastern Shore who's accused O'Malley of waging "war" on rural Maryland, has said he'll introduce a bill that would require legislative approval of the plan - though administration officials have insisted they're not waiting for the General Assembly to act before putting the finishing touches on the plan.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 11:52 AM | | Comments (1)

Tree planting in Carroll Park

Feeling like playing Johnny Appleseed?  Blue Water Baltimore needs volunteers to help plant heirloom apple trees Friday (Dec. 2) in Carroll Park, at 1500 Washington Blvd.

The area watershed group will be working with elementary school students from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to put the trees in the ground.

Assistance welcomed. Gloves, tools and training will be provided.

For more info, contact Suzie at

(Photo:  Students from Baltimore Talent Development High School plant fruit trees in Carroll Park, 2006.  Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:22 AM | | Comments (0)

November 28, 2011

Greens pushing offshore wind at forums

Gearing up for another push in Annapolis to get legislation subsidizing offshore wind development, environmental and labor groups are staging public forums over the next few weeks to tout the economic and health benefits of building the giant electricity-generating turbines off Ocean City.

There's an offshore wind "town hall" planned in Baltimore Wednesday (Nov. 30) from 7 - 8:30 p.m. in the fellowship room at St. Mark's Lutheran Church. 1900 St. Paul St.  Details here. Other forums are planned in Salisbury Dec. 5 and in Rosedale in Baltimore County on Dec. 13.

Despite backing from greens, unions and some businesses, Gov. Martin O'Malley's bid earlier this year to help offshore wind developers failed to win General Assembly approval.  Lawmakers balked at the potential cost to ratepayers of an administration bill that would have required utilities to sign long-term deals to buy power from the projects.

The administration has been working since spring with legislative committees studying the issue and appears leaning toward trying again in January with a different approach - this time geared towards requiring state electricity suppliers to get a certain share of their power from offshore wind projects.  Supporters are touting the jobs the projects will support, the relatively pollution-free nature of wind-generated electricity and the potential for stable (if higher) power prices in a potentially volatile future.

For more info, go here or contact Keith Harrington at

(Wind turbines off the Dutch coast, 2007. Reuters photo)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 12:22 PM | | Comments (0)

November 23, 2011

Septic task force produces "roadmap" for MD growth

The task force Gov. Martin O'Malley formed to revive his failed attempt to curb septic systems in Maryland has come up with something far more sweeping - a "roadmap" to future growth in the state that attempts to rein in the metastasis of sprawl into the countryside.

Whether the panel's new "tiered" approach to development will win over the builders, farmers and local pols who blocked O'Malley's septic restrictions remains to be seen. Likewise for whether it will work, even if it becomes law.

The 28-member panel, meeting Tuesday in Annapolis, sidestepped O'Malley's contentious proposal to ban large new housing projects on septic and voted instead to recommend putting all state land into one of four growth "tiers," with varying degrees of incentives or hurdles for new septic-dependent development in each. 

The impetus for change comes as the state struggles to meet its federally set targets for reducing the nutrient pollution fouling the Chesapeake Bay.  Per household, officials say, septic systems release far more nitrogen into ground water and nearby streams than do properly functioning wastewater treatment plants.

Continue reading "Septic task force produces "roadmap" for MD growth" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 9:02 AM | | Comments (1)

November 22, 2011

That Thanksgiving dinner? Mostly from out of state


As we Marylanders sit down Thursday to our Thanksgiving feasts, here's food for thought - less than half the traditional holiday meal we'll consume that day was grown locally. Not exactly what the Pilgrims had to be thankful for. And if the state's farmland keeps getting gobbled up by sprawl, even less of our sustenance will be coming from around here.

According to a survey by the land preservation group 1000 Friends of Maryland, 48 percent of our Thanksgiving staples overall are produced in-state.  Just 44 percent of the turkeys eaten are raised here, 41 percent of the potatoes (that seems high to me, frankly), 32 percent of the apples, 17 percent of the sweet potatoes and only one-half of 1 percent of the carrots.

The only produce in which Maryland is self-sufficient, or nearly so, according to the group, are snap beans, squash and pumpkins.  But if you think about all the pumpkin pies baked and eaten, I'll wager the vast majority of those rely on canned products raised elsewhere as well.

The geographical gap between production and consumption is not unusual.  Nationally, most produce travels 1,500 miles on average before being sold, according to the group's report.  And about 40% of our fruit and 9% of our red meat is imported from other countries.

Some might think relying on locally produced food is an anachronism.  But there's some comfort in knowing where your food comes from, and I've found some of the tastiest fruits, vegetables and seafood I've ever eaten had the shortest trip from harvest to my mouth.  This year, my family is dining on a locally raised turkey, but a lot of the farms in Maryland already had sold out by the time we started shopping for one.

Continue reading "That Thanksgiving dinner? Mostly from out of state" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 10:30 AM | | Comments (0)

November 21, 2011

Study: Cleaner gas clears MD air, helps Bay

Marylanders would breathe easier if the federal government ordered a reduction in the sulfur content of gasoline, according to a new study.  And the Chesapeake Bay likely would be cleaner as well.

A report released today by a group of state air-quality regulators in New England plus New Jersey and New York finds that lowering the sulfur in gasoline would significantly reduce  ozone pollution, or smog, from Virginia north to Maine. 

Sulfur in gas contributes to emissions of nitrogen oxides, or NOX, in car and light truck exhaust. Those oxides are a major ingredient in the ozone pollution, or smog that fouls the summer air, and they also enable fine-particle pollution, which can affect breathing year-round. 

Some of that NOX also falls out of the air, and the nitrogen in it worsens the nutrient pollution of rivers, lakes and marine ecosystems like the bay. Airborne deposition of nitrogen from cars, trucks and power plants is estimated to be nearly 20 percent of all the nitrogen affecting the Chesapeake from all sources, including sewage and farm and urban runoff.

Continue reading "Study: Cleaner gas clears MD air, helps Bay" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 10:33 AM | | Comments (0)

November 17, 2011

MD lawmaker questions EPA air-quality science

Maryland's attorney general may be pushing for tighter federal air pollution regulations (see previous post), but freshman Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md, is pushing back.

Harris, chairman of the House Science committee's energy and environment subcommittee, and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga, who heads the investigations and oversight subcommittee are challenging the scientific as well as the economic justification for new air-quality limits the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing. New rules are due by mid-December requiring tighter controls on mercury and toxic pollution emissions from power plants, which have drawn fire from the coal and utility industries, among others. The White House, at OMB's behest, postponed recently a move by EPA to tighten limits on ozone pollution, or smog, but others are still pending.

In a letter to the head of the Obama Administration's Office of Management and Budget, Harris and Broun - both physicians - accuse EPA's leadership of "press release science" in overstating the benefits and low-balling the costs of new air pollution regulations. They ask OMB head Cass Sunstein to take a critical look at the basis for EPA's air quality regulations and demand the underlying data behind studies linking soot pollution with premature deaths.

The pair contend EPA's leaders have been making "baseless and irresponsible statements" about how many lives could be saved by tightening limits on fine particle pollution, cross-state pollution and ozone pollution.

“In many cases, these required cost-benefit analyses appear designed to provide political cover for a more stringent regulatory agenda rather than objectively inform policy decisions,” Harris and Broun wrote.

Harris and Broun contend EPA is ignoring the negative health effects of regulations, which they say could increase joblessness because businesses would have to spend money on complying with them rather than hiring new workers. They also question why EPA calculates the same ecnomic benefit for every premature death prevented, noting that most of those who die from inhaling soot are elderly.

To read the letter, go here.

(Rep. Andy Harris speaking at town hall meeting in Elkton, April 2011 Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 11:10 AM | | Comments (8)

MD joins legal push for tougher soot limits

While government regulations often get branded as "job killers" these days, a group of states - including Maryland - have gone to court to get the government to crank down on fine-particle air pollution, which they contend is a real killer.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler has joined the top lawyers of  nine other states in asking the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to force the Environmental Protection Agency to follow the recommendations of health experts, its staff and independent science advisors to tighten the legal limit on fine particulates in the air.  To read it, go here.

Fine particulates, more commonly called soot, are emitted by diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and other fuel-burning equipment. PM2.5, as fine particles are known, are so tiny they're 1/30th the width of a human hair. They've been linked in study after study with increased rates of breathing impairments, cardiovascular disease and premature death. 

Continue reading "MD joins legal push for tougher soot limits" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 9:11 AM | | Comments (0)

November 16, 2011

Obama calls for cars to get 54.5 mpg


The Obama administration has upped the ante on federal fuel economy standards, calling for cars and light trucks to get up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson joined Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to announce the administration's proposal to set stronger fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas pollution standards for cars and light trucks made between 2017 and 2025.

Administration officials contend the higher mileage standards will reduce oil consumption by 4 billion barrels and cut 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in those years.  But they said it also should save Americans $6,600 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a 2025 model year vehicle, or a net savigns of $4,400 after factoring in projected higher costs for more fuel-efficient vehicles.  For more, go here.

The announcement, which builds on the administration's earlier push to get the nation's vehicle fleet to 35.5 mpg by 2016, drew cheers from environmentalists and raspberries from auto dealers.

Sarah Bucci of Environment Maryland, for instance, predicted that in Maryland alone, the fuel-economy standards would save each family $365 on average, and nationally would create nearly 500,000 new jobs.

The National Auto Dealers Association, meanwhile, warned that the rule could add more than $3,200 to the cost of a new vehicle, which could depress sales and slow fleet turnover, thereby delaying the environmental gains forecast. The group also argued that the regulation would most discourage sales of the industry's most popular, if least fuel-efficient vehicles, such as SUVs and other trucks and vans.

Cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks account for nearly 60 percent of transportation-related petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA.

(Traffic in Baltimore, 2010 Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 4:35 PM | | Comments (0)

Ravens team up for "cleaner, greener" game

Who says the Ravens can't play a cleaner game?

Baltimore's professional football team is joining with Constellation Energy to promote renewable energy when it plays the San Francisco 49ers Thanksgiving day at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore-based Constellation will retire "renewable energy certificates" that should cover the typical energy usage during the game. The certificates, which encourage wind, solar and other renewable power generation, will avoid about 30 tons of climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions - on a par with what would be produced by 1,200 tailgaters firing up propane grills.

To draw attention to the green partnership, Constellation Energy and the Ravens plan to stage a Facebook contest next week to test fans' football and energy knowledge.  They'll be giving away a pair of tickets and two pre-game hospitality passes to the Ravens final home game on Christmas Eve.  Look for it on Constellation's Facebook page.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)

Aberdeen Proving Ground trying out fuel cells

The Army, which has been on a green offensive lately, is putting fuel cells in as backup power supplies for three buildings at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County.

The cells, which use hydrogen as a fuel, are more efficient than internal combustion engines and much quieter and cleaner, with little or no greenhouse gas emissions..

The three going in at APG's building operations command center, the snow removal center in the Edgewood area and the Test Center Range Control are among 24 fuel cells being installed at nine federal sites across the country.  A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled today at APG to mark the project.

The $2.5 million installation is a joint venture of the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy.  The Army Corps has been trying out wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, biofuel and waste-to-energy as part of a push by the Department of Defense to develop alternative energy sources to support military operations.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)

Legal battle breaks out in Frederick Co over growth

Three environmental groups and a group of residents have gone to court in an attempt to block Frederick County from rezoning nearly 200 properties to allow for greater development.

Friends of Frederick County, Audubon Society of Central Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 29 county residents filed a lawsuit in Frederick County Circuit Court on Tuesday charging the county's rezoning move is illegal, would harm the environment and raise taxes to pay for the schools, roads and other infrastructure the additional development will need.

The county commissioners elected last year had vowed during the campaign to revisit comprehensive plan and zoning changes made in 2010 by the previous board of county commissioners.  Their predecessors had rezoned about 700 properties, according to Gazette.Net, shifting them from commercial or residential to agricultural or resource conservation zoning in order to scale back development and protect environmentally sensitive lands.  The newly elected board, contending those property owners had been deprived of their rights, invited applications this year for new zoning.

The groups contend the county is acting unawfully in selectively rezoning 193 properties whose owers have applied for a change - some of them unaffected by last year's down-zoning. If all the changes requested are granted, the environmental groups contend it would allow for 17,000 new homes.  Even before this move, planners now project the county of 243,000 people to grow by 20,000 households and roughly 80,000 people over the next two decades.

"No consideration is being given to adverse effects of such increased development on the environment or on public facilities," Janice Wiles, executive director of Friends of Frederick County, said in a statement.  She predicted taxes would have to be raised to cover the costs of building or expanding schools, roads and other facilities.

Jon Mueller, the bay foundation's vice president for litigation, called the rezoning an "illegal short cut to allow potentially substantial new sprawl development."  He warned that it would lead to increased runoff pollution of local waters.

County officials vowed to go ahead, according to the Frederick News-Post, while stressing they had yet to decide anything.  The county planning commission is set to begin hearing the zoning requests tonight.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 8:45 AM | | Comments (0)

November 15, 2011

Happy Recycling Day!


Today is America Recycles Day, promoting reduction and reuse of waste rather than landfilling or burning it. 

There are events planned locally and across the country - a Severn school, for instance, is staging a contest  to see who can build the biggest tower with catalogs and magazines collected for recycling.

While Maryland's counties and municipalities are recycling 39 percent of their solid waste, according to the state Department of the Environment, there's still room to do more.  Howard County, for instance, recently launched a pilot program to compost food scraps, one of the first localities on the East Coast to do it, though it's established in some West Coast communities already.  The county estimates that nearly a quarter of its waste now consists of food scraps.

Baltimore city's not ready to go there yet, but it did kick off a new foam recycling effort just this month, targeting another big waste component, by volume if not weight. City residents are invited to collect clean #6 polystyrene foam plates, cups, egg cartons and the like and bring them to the dropoff center at 2840 Sisson St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 

(Howard County family saves food scraps for composting.  Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 8:31 AM | | Comments (0)

New Ford EV takes bow at Hopkins

The new Ford Focus Electric will be in town today (Tuesday) to see and test drive at Johns Hopkins University.  It's not due on the market until early next year, but it'll be one of five Ford vehicles on display at an event examining the issues around electrification of travel and other fuel-efficient transportation.

There'll be a presentation and discussion from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by demonstrations and vehicle test drives until 1:30 p.m.   The event, part of a nationwide Ford tour touting its products, is cosponsored by the Baltimore Electric Vehicle Initiative and the Hopkins Office of Sustainability.

Hopkins has hosted a trot-out of the Chevy Volt in advance of its going on sale as well. The school also recently installed five EV charging stations on campus.

The event will be at Hopkins' Visitor Center in Mason Hall, 3100 Wyman Park Drive. Visitor parking is available nearby.  For a map, go here.  Those interested in a test drive or attending are asked to RSVP to Michael Phillips at or 434.760.4485.

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:35 AM | | Comments (0)

November 14, 2011

Regional climate action pays off, study finds


Maryland and other Northeastern states have helped rather than hurt their economies with “cap-and-trade” regulation of their power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, a new study finds.

In the past three years, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative produced a combined economic gain for the 10 participating states of more than $1.6 billion, or about $33 for every person living in the region, according to a report by the economic consulting firm Analysis Group. The ripple effects of making power plants buy permits to release carbon dioxide also created a total of 16,000 jobs, the consultants estimate.

“The program’s working,” said Paul J. Hibbard, a lead author of the study, which tracked the impacts of the carbon auctions through the economy. The research was funded by four foundations.

Consumers across the region are expected to save nearly $1.3 billion on their energy bills over the next decade, the study projects, through government-subsidized investments in home weatherization, energy-efficient appliances and other measures that should reduce demand for power below what it otherwise would be.

Continue reading "Regional climate action pays off, study finds" »

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 10:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air Pollution, Climate change, News

Oyster die-off ends skipjack captain's career

The oyster die-off this year in the Chesapeake Bay may have been limited to its northern reaches, but it's had  a severe impact on at least one waterman who worked there.

Capt. Barry Sweitzer has laid off his crew and put his 106-year-old skipjack, the Hilda M. Willing, up for sale after managing to find just a couple dozen live oysters in his first day of dredging for them, the Washington Post reports.

The state Department of Natural Resources reported last week that 74 to 79 percent of the oysters had died in two areas north of the Bay Bridge.  Record-high fresh-water flows from heavy spring rains killed most of them, state officials said, with another fresh-water influx from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee probably adding to the mortality.

Only about 2 percent of Maryland's commercial oyster harvest comes from those areas, according to DNR.  But for an estimated 30 watermen who worked those bars, the loss is a major blow to their livelihood. Oyster bars down the bay apparently didn't suffer similar die-offs, but many northern bay watermen probably can't make enough money oystering to cover the added costs of taking their boats down there and either making long commutes or staying far from home while they work those distant bars.

It's a sad end for Sweitzer, 50, who acquired the skipjack from his father and dredged for oysters two days a week.  Let's hope it's not the end of the line for the Hilda M. Willing.  Built in 1905, it's one of a handful of survivors from the hundreds of skipjacks that worked the bay in the heyday of sail-powered dredging around the beginning of the 20th century.  Sweitzer told the Post he hopes to sell the vessel to another commercial waterman who'll take it down the bay to harvest oysters there. 

(Skipjacks dredge the Choptank River for oysters at dawn in 1988.  Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 8:21 AM | | Comments (0)

Critters flock, hop & swim through road culverts

Raccoons, deer, cats, birds, turtles, even humans - all will make tracks under busy highways when they can, or must.

That's the upshot of a fun but practical new study from the Appalachian laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Researchers spent more than two years capturing critters on infra-red cameras as they moved through 265 different road and highway culverts around the state. They tallied up 57 different species using the underground structures, many of them put in when the road was built merely to channel a stream from one side to the other.

“I was surprised at the sheer number of species using these culverts, from birds to reptiles to mammals,” study author Ed Gates said in a release

The critter caught most frequently by far on the cameras was the northern raccoon, followed by common house cats and then white-tailed deer.  But barn swallows, mallards and great blue heron were up there, too. So were humans, oddly or naturally enough.

The study was done for the State Highway Administration so they can figure out how to get more animals to use the culverts. It enables wildlife to move about in habitat increasingly carved up by pavement and avoid becoming roadkill - or worse, killing or maiming motorists.

I wrote about this effort a year ago in the Baltimore Sun.  You can read that story here.  And to see some more "wildlife candid camera," check out UMCES on Facebook.

(Photos courtesy University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:36 AM | | Comments (0)
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Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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