The Environment in Focus

The Environment In Focus
2:45 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Governor Reaches Compromise with Chesapeake Bay Advocates, Eliminates Poultry Industry Loophole

A political game of chicken ended peacefully in the Maryland General Assembly last week.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan -- who once pledged to make it is his “first fight” to stop poultry manure pollution regulations --  had been facing off against Democratic state lawmakers who wanted a law to protect the Chesapeake Bay from manure runoff.  Last week, they reached a compromise that was praised by both environmentalists and farmers.

In the compromise, the Hogan administration issued revised poultry manure management regulations that will phase in restrictions on the over-application of poultry manure to Eastern Shore farm fields already saturated with phosphorus from manure.  The new rules will offer farmers flexibility, but have a firm deadline of 2024.  Runoff of manure from the state’s 300 million chickens contributes to fish-killing dead zones in the Bay.


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The Environment In Focus
3:58 pm
Tue March 17, 2015

Honoring a Champion of the Chesapeake Bay

Someday, when a history is written about the long and not always successful war to restore the Chesapeake Bay, a chapter will be devoted to one of the bay’s greatest heroes:  John Griffin.

Over more than three decades, Griffin labored – often behind the scenes, working 70 hour weeks-- for four Maryland governors as the state’s deputy secretary or secretary of Natural Resources.  With the change in administrations in January, Griffin – now 68 years old -- finally resigned from his final job with the state, as Governor Martin O’Malley’s chief of staff.

As chairman of the Governor's Chesapeake Bay Cabinet from 2007 to 2013, Griffin led Maryland’s efforts to meet new pollution limits for the nation’s largest estuary, set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010.

But, oddly enough, his lifelong devotion to conservation did not grow out of the bay – but instead, out of his childhood, growing up in part in New Mexico.  There, in the stark but stunning western landscapes outside Albuqurque, he hunted, fished and camped with his father, an air force bomber pilot. Father and son visited Native American reservations, which inspired reverence in John.


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The Environment In Focus
3:21 pm
Tue March 10, 2015

A Sea Change in the Language of Climate Change

Congressional Republicans who have long denied the reality of global warming recently made a subtle shift in their language.

On January 21, the U.S. Senate voted 98-1 in favor of a Democratic resolution that said “climate change is real and not a hoax.”

Among the Senators who scrambled to co-sponsor the resolution was – surprisingly – Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.  The same James Inhofe, just two years ago, published a book titled, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”


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The Environment In Focus
3:46 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

MD Governor Unveils Clean Water Rules With Loophole for Poultry Industry

As one of his first acts as Maryland’s Governor, Larry Hogan on January 21 kept a campaign promise to the farm lobby by killing new state regulations meant to reduce poultry manure pollution that is causing “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay.

But then, on February 13th, the Hogan administration received a warning letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA advised state officials that if Maryland dropped its manure limits, it would have to take some kind of alternative action to reduce pollution and meet EPA pollution limits for the Bay. 

Worried about backsliding in the state’s EPA-mandated Bay cleanup effort, Democrats in the General Assembly decided to move ahead with their own pollution control legislation, without the governor.   Democratic lawmakers sponsored bills (Senate Bill 257 and House Bill 381) that would put into law limits on the dumping of more manure as fertilizer on Eastern Shore farm fields that are already saturated with phosphorus from manure.


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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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