The Environment in Focus

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.

Tom Pelton is a national award-winning environmental journalist, formerly with The Baltimore Sun.  He is now director of communications at the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

The Environment in Focus is independently owned and distributed by Environment in Focus Radio to WYPR and other stations.   The views expressed are solely Pelton's.  You can contact him at pelton.tom@gmail.com

Full Archive of Environment in Focus

In 1970, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law that requires government agencies to open most of their records to journalists or anyone from the public who wants to know what their government is up to.

The point of the Maryland Public Information Act is to make information freely available to all voters  and taxpayers – not only those with money or connections.

But increasingly, advocates of open government complain that state agencies have adopted a “pay to play” policy that has turned public information into a private commodity – or a political weapon. 


Seahorses Threatened by Trawling and Pollution

Oct 7, 2014

Seahorse populations in several parts of the world, including in the Chesapeake Bay, are threatened in part because of the destruction of underwater grasses that seahorses need as shelter.

Amanda Vincent, a zoologist and seahorse expert at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, argues that governments around the world can help save seahorses by ending bottom trawling for shrimp (which rips up seagrasses) and reducing water pollution (which blocks light that grasses need to grow).

(Photo from National Aquarium in Baltimore.)

Sewage Overflows Feed a Garden of Troubles

Sep 30, 2014

On a road in Baltimore, from a gap in the pavement near a manhole cover, grows a tomato plant. Green roma tomatoes dangle like Christmas tree bulbs strangely out of place beside a steel guard rail.  Nearby, just west of Falls Road near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, several more unruly tomatoes and a squash plant rise and twist amid sewage smells beside an eroded section of the Jones Falls bike trail.  David Flores, the Baltimore Harborkeeper, has a theory about the origin of this well-fertilized garden flourishing on the banks of the Jones Falls.  It grows out of sewage.


The Canary in the Corn Field

Sep 23, 2014

In the late 1990s, farmers across the U.S. began planting a different kind of crop.  About 90 percent of farmers started raising corn and soybeans that were genetically modified to tolerate an herbicide called glyphosate or Roundup. That was bad news for monarch butterflies, the iconic symbols of summer, whose populations have plummeted by 90 percent since then.


Over the last year, the news has been full of stories about U.S. government surveillance of its own civilians.  Among those worried about the government’s increased power to track and record the communications of people in the iPhone age are some environmental activists who in the past have been wrongly labeled "ecoterrorists" in government databases.


Political Polarization and the "Green Scare"

Sep 9, 2014

From all the negative rhetoric you hear these days from Republican elected officials about environmental regulations, one might think that opposition to environmental policies has always been a litmus test for belonging to the G.O.P.

It is important to remember, however, that the conservation movement was founded in part by a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt.  And another  Republican President, Richard Nixon, created the Environmental Protection Agency.   Nixon is shown in this photo signing the landmark Clean Air Act in 1970.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Republican and Democratic politicians and voters alike overwhelmingly supported environmental spending and regulations.


The Lorax of Baltimore Plants His Last Tree

Sep 2, 2014

Dr. Michael Beer of Baltimore, a retired biophysics pioneer at Johns Hopkins University who founded an environmental organization dedicated to planting trees and cleaning up urban streams, died of a heart attack on August 22 at the age of 88.  To many, he was an inspiring example of how to live with nature, love your neighbors, and age with grace and purpose.


A new twist has surfaced in a long-running saga over what would be the first wind farm built on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

U.S.  Senator Barbara Mikulski, the powerful chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently added language to a defense appropriation bill that would prevent the Navy from finalizing an agreement to allow two dozen 600-foot-tall wind turbines at the proposed Great Bay Wind Energy Center in Somerset County. 

Allowing hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Western Maryland would result in a high likelihood that public health would suffer, according to a report released on Monday by the  University of Maryland. 

Air pollution from the diesel engines and trucks used in fracking would likely cause coughs, severe headaches, burning eyes and other health problems in Garrett and Allegany counties where drilling is contemplated, according to researchers with the University’s School of Public Health.

Some aquatic vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere may actually be helped by the rising carbon dioxide levels that are causing global warming, researchers suggest.


Pages