The Environment in Focus

Wednesday at 9:35 am and 5:45 pm

The Environment in Focus is a weekly perspective on the issues and people changing Maryland's natural world.  There's a story behind every bend of the Chesapeake Bay's 11,684 miles of shoreline, in every abandoned coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains, in every exotic beetle menacing our forests and in every loophole snuck into pollution control laws in Annapolis.  Tom Pelton gives you a tour of this landscape every Wednesday at 9:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

The Environment in Focus is sponsored by The Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

   

Full Archive of Environment in Focus

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The Environment In Focus
6:35 pm
Tue February 24, 2015

The Link Between “Dead Zones” and Disease in Oysters

One of the most mysterious creatures of Chesapeake Bay is a microscopic parasite that infects oysters, called Perkinsus marinus.

Perkinsus is a tiny, single-celled animal – a protozoan -- that swims about the bay, propelled by a pair-of whip-like flagella.  

When oysters suck in water and accidentally ingest one of these critters, the parasite burrows in and hijacks its host.  Perkinsus uses the oyster’s body to multiply its own offspring, leaving the oyster pale, emaciated, and shriveled. 

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The Environment In Focus
2:55 pm
Tue February 17, 2015

Saving an Endangered Species: Dairy Farmers

Many of the Chesapeake region’s dairy farms have gone out of business over the last two decades.  In Maryland, for example, 50 percent of the dairies have failed over the last decade, and 90 percent since 1970. Competition from industrial-sized dairies in the West and Midwest have made it hard for small family farms to survive.

The trend has been: get big, or get out.

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The Environment In Focus
3:15 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

New Book Exposes Root Causes of Industrial Catastrophes

In the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, a huge cutting machine sheared coal from the long wall of a shaft more than 1,000 feet underground. The coal tumbled onto a conveyor belt, kicking up large amounts of dust.

This coal dust was a well-known hazard, not only to the lungs of the 31 miners who worked there.  The dust was also an explosion risk because the powder – if it accumulated -- could be ignited by a spark from the cutting machine, and accelerated by methane gas that seeped from cracks in the walls.

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The Environment In Focus
3:12 pm
Tue February 3, 2015

What is Really Behind Anti-Regulatory Legislation in Congress?

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill called the Regulatory Accountability Act.  The legislation, which is now before the Republican-controlled Senate, would make it much harder for EPA or any other federal agencies to create new regulations to protect the environment or public safety.

The bill would add bureaucratic obstacles to the rule-making process, including 29 new documentation requirements. President Obama has threatened a veto. 

U.S. Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania was among the House Republicans who argued the law is necessary because the Environmental Protection Agency -- and government regulations in general –have gone too far.

“I live in the middle of five farms. I’ve been there for almost two decades,” said Marino, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform. “Recently, the EPA has attempted to get more control over farmland by saying if there’s a rainstorm and there’s a puddle where a farmer – …or a farmer even spills milk – then EPA has control over that land.”


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The Environment In Focus
3:22 pm
Tue January 27, 2015

New MD Governor Stops Pollution Control Regulations

When Bob Ehrlich became governor in 2003, one of his first acts -- as Maryland’s first Republican chief executive in more than three decades -- was to abandon new state regulations that would have held the state’s large poultry industry responsible for reducing its manure runoff pollution into the Chesapeake Bay.

Ehrlich’s former appointments secretary, Larry Hogan, a Republican real estate developer, was sworn in as Maryland's new governor last week.  On his first day in office, Hogan beat his former boss in anti-environmental showmanship by killing not only new poultry waste regulations important for the health of the Bay, but also clean air rules designed to reduce smog in the Baltimore area.


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The Environment In Focus
2:21 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

Discovering the Monster Crabs of the Old Chesapeake

Blue crabs are an important part of the Chesapeake region’s culture, diet, and economy. But crab remains are rare in archeological sites around the Bay. This has led some scientists to believe that Native Americans did not eat the beautiful swimmers that today we find so delicious.

 “What we know about Native Americans ate is based on some historic records, but also on looking at the trash piles that Indians left, mostly on the shoreline of Chesapeake Bay,” said Tuck Hines, Director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “And the majority of those trash piles are made up of oyster shells. But not much in the way of blue crab remains are generally found in those trash piles or ‘middens.’”

 


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The Environment In Focus
3:07 pm
Tue January 13, 2015

The Impact of Falling Gas and Oil Prices

As the Maryland General Assembly session opens today in Annapolis, one of the hot topics will be whether Governor-Elect Larry Hogan will try to loosen up restrictions on hydraulic fracturing to allow drilling companies to frack in Western Maryland for the first time.

But the state forests may be protected from drilling, at least in the short term not by politics, but by economics.   Industry analysts say that plunging natural gas and oil prices – caused by a glut of fuel produced by fracking -- are causing oil and gas companies across the country to shut down rigs, lay off workers, and avoid new development in places like Maryland.


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The Environment In Focus
2:30 pm
Tue January 6, 2015

Life on the Wing

Children are so sensitive to the natural world, sometimes all it takes is a single moment to alter the course of their lives.

Lincoln Brower is now 83 years old.  But he still remembers with perfect clarity a time one day when he was six and growing up in Northwest New Jersey.  He was lying on his stomach in the grass, near where his parents were playing tennis.

 “In those days, the lawns were full of an array of weeds and wild plants and caterpillars galore,” Brower recalls at his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  “And this little copper butterfly appeared on a clover blossom, sipping nectar.  And I got really interested in that butterfly, probably because I was lying down really close to it. And I could see this gorgeous pattern on the wings.”


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The Environment In Focus
2:42 pm
Thu January 1, 2015

The Singing Crab Pickers: A Chorus of Hope

The women of the island town of Tylerton in the Chesapeake Bay sing gospel hymns as they pick the crabs caught by their husbands and sons.  Their music sounds timeless, and visitors might imagine pickers in the fishing community singing work songs like this since the English landed here in 1638.


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The Environment In Focus
4:02 pm
Tue December 23, 2014

Orchids: The Smartest Plants in the World

Orchids are sometimes called "the smartest plants in the world" because of their ingenious ability to trick insects and people into helping with their pollination and transport. But many of the 25,000 known species of orchids are threatened or endangered, and Dennis Whigham and colleagues at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are investigating why. The scientists are also trying to bring these dinosaur-era plants back. 


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