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November 4, 2010

Greens do well in MD, but face 'uphill battle' in DC

Environmental activists are celebrating election returns indicating they still have clout in Annapolis (and California), but the outlook in Washington isn't so green.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters says that 88 percent of the candidates it endorsed, 119 out of 138, won their races on Tuesday, with two races still too close to call as of mid-day Wednesday.  The most prominent of those, of course, was the reelection of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, whom the league had endorsed way back in January, even before it was clear Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would challenge him. 

League executive director Cindy Schwartz said the results show Marylanders are passionate about the Chesapeake Bay and are "growing increasingly concerned about over-development and traffic, and recognize the need to create new clean energy jobs." 

She also claimed the returns confirm that "environmental issues always are top of mind when voters go to the polls."

Hard to dispute the first assertion, as I've not seen any recent poll results on growth and green jobs.  But the second contention about environmental issues being a priority with Maryland voters seems a tad optimistic.  A long series of independent public opinion polls through multiple elections, including this year's, have always found the environment, even the bay, taking a back seat in voters' minds to the economy, education and crime.   Voters care about the environment here, to be sure, but still not as much as other issues.

Perhaps another key to the league's high electoral batting average this year was its teaming up with labor (teachers and service workers) and with another environmental groups, Sierra Club and Environment Maryland, to pool efforts in making phone calls, sending out emails and producing campaign videos.

Overall, Republicans picked up a half-dozen seats in Maryland's House of Delegates, reports The Sun's Julie Bykowicz, while possibly losing two seats in the Senate, depending on the final outcome of close counts.

Locally, Baltimore city voters overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment (Question B) setting up one or more funds to promote sustainability, maintain city parks and improve the urban environment.  That could come in handy for ensuring that revenues can be raised through fees or other means to clean up litter in the harbor or retrofit storm drains.  Anne Arundel voters also put a dedicated environmentalist, West-Rhode Riverkeeper Chris Trumbauer, on the County Council.

California remains firmly green as well, it seems. There, voters defeated a ballot proposition to stall that state's climate-change law.  Proposition 23 had been heavily underwritten by industries opposed to the impending regulations. 

In Washington, though, it appears voters in Maryland and across the nation have made it much tougher for Congress to pass the Chesapeake Bay cleanup or climate-change legislation that have languished on Capitol Hill the past year.

Prospects for the bay bill sponsored by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md, appear to have worsened with the Republican House takeover and inroads in the Senate.  "It's going to be an uphill battle, but we're giving it all we've got," Doug Siglin, federal affairs director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, acknowledged in an email.   The bill faces fierce opposition from national farm and builders' lobbies, who see it as a template for how the Obama administration would regulate water pollution in other states. 

As for climate legislation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank opposed to environmental regulations, pointed out that 30 House Democrats who'd voted in 2009 to pass the Waxman-Markey bill to cap and trade greenhouse gas emissions, either lost their seats or retired this year. 

One of those was Maryland's freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil, who lost big to Republican former state senator Andrew Harris in their rematch for the 1st District congressional seat representing the Eastern Shore and the northeastern portion of the Baltimore suburbs.  Kratovil had narrowly beat Harris two years ago in the contest to see who would replace moderate GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, who'd lost in the primary to Harris.

While climate action supporters like Kratovil fell, environmentalists point out that nearly half the 43 Democrats who'd voted against the climate bill also lost their races or retired. 

Whatever the reasons for those seats changing hands, environmentalists acknowledge they're not optimistic about any climate legislation moving on Capitol Hill for the next couple year - unless it's an attempt to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"Obviously the votes are not going to be there in the House .. to move forward," Martin Hayden, a vice president of the environmental group Earthjustice, said Wednesday in assessing the election's impact.The Senate remained in the Democrats' control, though Republicans did pick up seats there, too, and Grist points out that the ranks of senators opposed to climate action has grown.

Greens still hope that there's enough support in both parties for "energy independence" to pass legislation promoting energy efficiency and alternative energy development -- two pillars of the effort to reduce greenhouse gases as well. 

And the bay foundation's Siglin said that even if a comprehensive bay cleanup bill  like Cardin's can't pass, local environmentalists hope to get elements of it through in other forms, particularly the provisions authorizing increased federal funding to help farmers and communities deal with their polluted runoff.

(Maryland State House dome, Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston; newly elected 1st District Rep. Andrew Harris, AP photo)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Air Pollution, Chesapeake Bay, Climate change, News

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About the bloggers
Meredith CohnMeredith Cohn has been a reporter for more than 18 years and has covered a variety of subjects, from airlines and agriculture to politics and health and fitness. She's gained an appreciation for the environment as a biker, runner and dog walker. She also hopes this blog means coworkers will stop staring when she carries home recyclables from the office.

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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