The Environment in Focus

The Environment In Focus
3:57 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

New Study Suggests Air Pollution Hurts Brains and Behavior of Children

For decades, scientists have known that air pollution harms people's bodies. Microscopic particles  released by the burning of coal, oil and gasoline slip into people’s lungs and bloodstreams and  trigger asthma  and heart attacks.

Now it looks like air pollution might impair our minds, too.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry suggests that smoke-like emissions from vehicles and industry reduce the development of white matter in the brains of children.  With less of this important wiring in the brain, children – especially in urban areas, with more air pollution – process information more slowly, and tend to be more hyperactive and aggressive.

These are the conclusions of Dr. Bradley Peterson,  Director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, and colleagues working at Columbia University. They published a study on air pollutants called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, which are released by the incomplete burning of coal, diesel, wood, and other fuels.


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The Environment In Focus
2:44 pm
Tue April 14, 2015

Maryland’s “Rain Tax” Gets Flushed

The Maryland General Assembly’s annual session ended at Midnight  on Monday with both good and bad news on environmental issues.

On the negative side, stormwater pollution control fees mandated by a 2012 state law to clean up the Chesapeake Bay were attacked as an unfair “tax on rain.”

In the end, lawmakers voted 47-0 in the state senate, and 138-1 in the house, to approve a bill by Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller that would eliminate the requirement that the state’s most heavily populated counties and Baltimore impose stormwater pollution control fees.   


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The Environment In Focus
2:09 pm
Tue April 7, 2015

Maryland Senate Approves Fracking Moratorium

On Monday night, the Maryland Senate voted 45 to 2 in favor of imposing a two year moratorium on allowing any hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the state.

Two weeks earlier, the House had voted in favor of a three year ban on fracking, which is the injection of water and chemicals into shale rock formations to extract oil and gas.  It is now likely the two chambers of the legislature will reach a compromise and impose some sort of a fracking moratorium by the time the General Assembly session ends on Monday.

The big questions now are whether Republican Governor Larry Hogan will veto the restrictions by the Democratic controlled legislature.  And whether lawmakers will approve insurance requirements for drillers that some Republicans predict could scare away the industry.   


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The Environment In Focus
2:21 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Protections for Honey Bees Killed by Farm Lobby

Populations of honey bees have been falling over the last decade, eliminating pollinators necessary for the farming of many fruits, vegetables, and nuts. 

Scientists have concluded that one of the likely contributing causes of the bee deaths is the growing use of insecticides on farms and gardens.  Chemicals called neonicotinoids – or neonics, for short -- contain a form of nicotine that is intended to kills pests.  But neonics also cause subtle damage to the nerve systems of bees, intoxicating them so that they can’t find their way back home to their hives. The bees wander off and die.

Researchers say other factors may be involved in the bee declines, too – including a virus, parasites, the destruction of flowering trees and meadows, and stresses from modern industrial farming practices, which require truckloads of bees to be hauled thousands of miles to pollinate fruit and nut farms.

But the disease  and parasite problems may be worsened by the application of insecticides, which weaken bees.   So in 2013, the European Union imposed a two-year ban on the use of neonicotinoids.

In Maryland, a bill in the General Assembly would take steps toward restricting the use of neonics. Senate Bill 163 would ban the sale of the insecticides to homeowners who spray the chemicals on their gardens. 


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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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