Gubernatorial Candidates Stake Positions on Environmental Issues

A September 26 Baltimore Sun article reported on the slightly higher profile environmental issues (especially the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort) are playing in Maryland’s 2014 gubernatorial race and analyzed the key environmental positions of the Democratic and Republican candidates.

The environment rarely is a big issue in any election, though candidates of both parties pay lip service to the bay. Environmental groups routinely back Democratic candidates, and this election is no different. [Democratic candidate Anthony] Brown has picked up a series of endorsements from activists fearful [Republican candidate Larry] Hogan would cut funding and shelve programs they believe are helping.

Republicans often cede the votes of ardent environmentalists, but Hogan has challenged Brown’s green credentials, accusing the O’Malley administration of neglecting Susquehanna pollution and “raiding” more than $1 billion in funds earmarked for land preservation and sewage treatment.

“I’ve been in the state since 1986, and I don’t remember the bay being an issue, at least in this way,” says Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He said it’s unusual as well to hear a conservative Republican candidate argue that he’d do a better job cleaning up the bay.

The article discussed concerns over Brown’s previous lack of engagement on environmental issues, noting that some environmental groups such as the League of Conservation Voters are now supportive of Brown while others still have doubts.  The article also quoted critics who maintain that Hogan is over-emphasizing the contribution of the Conowingo Dam on the health of the Bay.  The article concluded by summarizing the positions of each candidate on several key environmental issues:

Diverting funds: Hogan has criticized the O’Malley administration for “raiding” land preservation and sewage treatment funds to balance the budget. He vows never to touch that money, though every governor for the past 30 years has tapped the open-space money when times were tight. Brown says the money was needed elsewhere during the recession, but the administration nonetheless found a way to preserve land and expand environmental programs. He said that as governor, he expects to “return to normal budgeting.”

Fracking: Brown says he’d allow fracking — drilling for natural gas in Western Maryland using hydraulic fracturing — only if it can be done in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, residents or gas well workers. Hogan says he believes fracking can be done in an environmentally sensitive way, and he’d allow it.

Farm runoff rules: The O’Malley administration has proposed regulations that that [sic] would curtail use of animal manure as fertilizer on the Eastern Shore. The measure is aimed at reducing phosphorus in the manure from washing into the bay. The rule’s potential economic impact is being studied.

Brown says he would he would try to “strike a balance” between the need to reduce pollution and to protect farmers and poultry companies, and suggests he might hold up the rules for more review. Hogan says he recognizes a need to reduce phosphorus pollution, but would “put the brakes” on any regulation that farmers and chicken producers told him would “kill the poultry industry.”

The article also noted that Hogan favors repealing the stormwater remediation fee (or “rain tax”) while Brown would consider standardizing it across the affected jurisdictions.