MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're all about saving and spending. And in this next segment, we'll be focusing on some of the hard decisions local and state legislatures are grappling with as they figure out where to spend and how to save taxpayer dollars. In Maryland, these decisions are coming down to the wire since the legislative session ends this Monday. And at the heart of many discussions of late, is the environment. We've asked environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour to fill us in on the debates in Annapolis and how their outcome may affect residents. Hey there, Sabri.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
So, okay, let's start with one of the most high profile topics of this year's session, wind power. Where does that issue stand in Annapolis these days?
Yes. Laying the ground work for offshore wind power is one of Governor Martin O'Malley's signature legislative priorities. And in a nutshell, his plan would subsidize an offshore wind farm about 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The idea is, this wind farm would provide renewable energy and reduce pollution. It ideally also creates an onshore industry to support the offshore turbines. Here's Mike Tidwell with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
MR. MIKE TIDWELL
If Maryland doesn’t start switching to clean renewable energy in a hurry, then who else will? We are one of the most vulnerable states in America to global warming, just from sea level rise. We are a water state. For Maryland to show to the rest of the country, we're going to build a new industry, we're going to powering most of our economy with wind power, within 10 to 20 years, that's going to inspire the rest of the country.
Now, the catch is that in order to accomplish this, a $1.50 would be tacked onto the electric bills of Maryland residents and it would actually be more than that if you're a business. Polling suggests that the public backs this idea but we will find out how comfortable legislators are with the plan. This one is likely to go down to the wire.
In another fight in Annapolis this year, is over chicken, I understand. There was a big dispute over arsenic and poultry. What's that all about?
For two years now, there has been this effort to ban something called Roxarsone in chicken feed. It's basically a medication to keep chickens from getting intestinal parasites but it does contain arsenic. Environmentalists say Roxarsone is dangerous. Jorge Aguilar is with Food and Water Watch.
MR. JORGE AGUILAR
Arsenic is a known carcinogen and there's absolutely no acceptable limit for a carcinogen because any level of carcinogen increases ones risk of cancer.
Now, the poultry industry says this medication is absolutely not dangerous. It argues that the levels are so low that we shouldn’t worry about them and that farmers depend on Roxarsone. Senator Richard Colburn represents much of the Eastern shore, I reached him on the Senate floor.
SENATOR RICHARD COLBURN
(unintelligible) consume more arsenic by eating all kinds of products, rice, shrimp, grapes, then merely eating chicken. So this is just an attempt to buy environmentalists to try to drive the Delmarva Poultry industry off the Eastern shore.
Now, on the one hand, an FDA study found that small amounts of arsenic do make it into chicken livers. On the other hand, those levels are extremely low. But this was enough of a finding to cause the major producer of this drug, Pfizer to stop making it while the FDA figures out what to do if anything.
Wait, so if the drug isn't being made anymore, why so much fuss in Annapolis?
Because farmers might start using Roxarsone again if the FDA clears the drug.
Well, it'll be interesting to see how that debate plays out in the coming days. But for now, I want to bring up another hot topic. It's something you've reported on for us before, it's called Plan Maryland. Can you get us up to speed on Plan Maryland?
Plan Maryland is this executive order signed by Governor Martin O'Malley that says to counties, please make your growth smarter, less dense, less sprawling and P.S., if you do allow sprawls, state agencies aren't going to fund their part of it. Some counties, mostly rural counties, reacted really negatively to it. Here's my favorite reaction from Richard Rothschild, he's the county commissioner in Carroll County.
MR. RICHARD ROTHSCHILD
This is America, we don't do centralized top down planning. That resembles the actions of a dictatorship more than a constitutional republic.
So there were eight or nine legislative attempts to block Plan Maryland. The one bill that looks like it's going through makes it clear that the state can't directly control local decisions on zoning. But it doesn't substantively change the concept behind Plan Maryland.
Okay. Well, in a somewhat related vein, there's been a big fight over septic tanks. Why have septic tanks, of all things, been so important to law makers?
Yeah, it's actually been one of the most vigorously debated topics in Annapolis, this session. On the one hand, septic tanks tend to leak nitrogen into water ways and cause water quality problems. But on the other hand, they're cheaper for counties then putting in sewer lines. So this bill supported by the Governor would make counties split up their land into areas where it's okay to have septic tanks and areas where it isn't. So that means, growth would be managed, but it also means, if you want to develop a rural area, it's going to be more difficult.
And that bill did pass, right?
Yes. But in order to get it passed, they had to tweak it to make it clear that the state couldn't overturn local zoning decisions, whether that counts as watering the bill down, I don't really think it does because the state could never overturn those decisions anyway. So as you can see, there is a big philosophical fight in Maryland over how to balance economic growth and the environment and that's a debate that's sure to reappear in other contacts next year and probably every year after that.
Indeed, wow, Sabri, thank you so much for giving us the lowdown on all these big environmental issues in Annapolis.
Sabri Ben-Achour is WAMU's environment reporter. If you have an environment story you think we should be covering or if you'd just like to chime in about the political debates in Annapolis, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sabri Ben-Achour is WAMU's environment reporter. If you have an environment story you think we should be covering or if you just like to chime in about the political debates in Annapolis, send us an email at email@example.com.
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