The Dernogalizer

July 9, 2009

Chesapeake Bay: Speake of the Devil

I have a column out today about how despite the fact that every elected official in Maryland talks about the need for saving the Chesapeake Bay, the policies we have been passing(and not passing) are contradictory.  A lot of these issues such as highway construction over mass transit and unchecked growth are interconnected with our dependency on fossil fuels and our contribution to global warming.  This is one of my harsher columns, but called for in my opinion.  Sources are at the bottom.

Chesapeake Bay: Speake of the devil


Issue date: 7/9/09

Save the Bay! No really, I mean it. Back in 1987, federal and state officials set a target to finish restoring the Chesapeake Bay by 2000, whose value 20 years ago was pegged at $678 billion by University of Maryland economists. Inflation alone would push that value over a trillion dollars. Maybe we were counting on 2000 being the end of the world, but when computers failed to take over and clean the bay themselves, we were forced to set a target of 2010. Whoops.

So now the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials, including a number from Maryland, have gotten serious. They’ve said enough is enough: It’s time to set a target to which leaders can be held accountable. The new deadline for getting the bay off the list of the nation’s most impaired waters is now 2025, with two-year milestone goals sprinkled in between. Governor Martin O’Malley boldly declared Maryland would hit its own nutrient reduction goals by 2020. 

O’Malley and every other elected official in Annapolis will tell you they’re for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. It’s as easy as saying you’re for fighting cancer or for education. A closer look at our own state policies provides a clue as to why despite lawmakers’ happy proclamations on behalf of the bay, it still remains in shambles.

Doesn’t anyone find it ironic that we decided to have the words “Treasure the Chesapeake” engraved on the back of license plates? License plates which happen to be attached to cars running on roads which has sediment pollution runoff that is ruining the Chesapeake. This is symbolic of our problem. Our largest expenditure to affect the bay’s health thus far consists of billions of dollars spent on the maligned InterCounty Connector. This road blows through the Anacostia Watershed, which feeds into the bay. The Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) is now considering granting a permit for the cross-county connector. This new Charles County highway would drive right through the Mattawoman Watershed, which flows into the bay.

Annapolis recently ensured we’ll continue our happy highway construction by weakening a smart growth bill this past session that would have put some teeth behind responsible development and anti-sprawl benchmarks. Poor land-use planning and highway construction have become coordinated catastrophes that make our clean-up deadline of 2025 a flatline. From his policies, it’s tough to tell whether O’Malley’s personal 2020 target is to clean up Maryland’s pollution contribution or finish the bay off once and for all. 

The policies’ harmful effects are magnified by MDE dragging its feet on enforcing stormwater management rules passed in early 2007. The Stormwater Management Act has encountered two years worth of deliberations by MDE to figure out what to do with it. This culminated in a “please?” ordinance to county governments and local municipalities to only mitigate the runoff impact of 50 percent of impervious surfaces for redevelopment projects. Half-hearted by both my math and their effort.

News flash to Annapolis and O’Malley: When you build mega-highways across waterways which connect to the bay; when you water down smart growth bills that would encourage and enforce responsible development; when you water down our stormwater management laws so our runoff continues to pollute the bay – you’re not saving the bay. You’re killing it.

Now if only we could fit that onto the back of a license plate.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at

Sources: (death of smart growth bill) (blown deadline) (blown deadline) (2025 target) (value of the Bay) (O’Malley setting higher goal for Bay) (on Cross County Connector) (Stormwater management Act, to go to next page to see delays, go down to bottom and check archives) (pg 13 on stormwater management)


100th Coal Plant Canceled since 2002

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 3:53 pm

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the impending death of coal given the trends.  One of the citations was the fact that so many coal plants had been canceled during a Bush Administration that tried hard to build as many plants as possible.  Today, a coal plant permit in Utah was canceled, making it the 100th coal plant canceled since 2002.  This milestone once again signifies that coal’s sun is setting ,and the energy portfolio in this country is moving in the opposite direction.  With an impending climate bill and a less coal-happy Obama Administration, as well as the falling costs of clean renewable sources of energy, expect this trend to become more glaring over the next 8 years.  Excerpts below.

“The Intermountain Power Agency said on Thursday it will not continue efforts to seek an air permit for a third 900-megawatt coal-fired power unit at its plant in Utah.”

“The Sierra Club said the once-proposed Unit 3 at the Intermountain power station 120 miles southwest of Salt Lake City is the 100th coal-fired power plant to be scuttled since 2002.”

“”More than 400 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution, a main cause of global warming, have been kept out of the air annually as a result of stopping these 100 plants,” said a Sierra Club statement issued Thursday.”

The Sierra Club’s national director of its anti-coal efforts, Bruce Nilles, praised Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who last week announced that the city’s 1.45 million electricity customers would stop getting power from coal plants by 2020.  Nilles said that the Bush Administration cleared the path for a surge in new coal-fired power plants in 2002 by eliminating some environmental regulations.”

“The IPA, which is owned by 36 Utah municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives, did not withdraw the permit until now because it was involved in a lawsuit with the LADWP over more than $6 million in costs to plan Unit 3, said Ward.”

Mike Tidwell Links Climate Change and Health Care, Calls on Obama to Step Up

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 1:18 am
Tags: , , , ,

This slipped my mind the other day, but the director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network(CCAN) Mike Tidwell, also terrific author and a friend, had a great column out in the Baltimore Sun on Tuesday.  In it, he shows the linkages between avoiding catastrophic climate change and addressing health care, and makes the case that we shouldn’t put climate change aside to deal with solely health care.  The main target of this demand is President Obama, who has done a lot of work talking up health care in the public and holding town hall meetings, which he hasn’t done thus far on the climate bill.  Tidwell gave me a copy of this op-ed this past Tuesday when we both took part in a lobbying meeting with Senator Cardin’s Staff and the Senator, and I made a mental note to post it on here, but forgot.  I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion of the column, which is that Obama needs to get louder and more vocal if a meaningful bill is to pass the Senate.  The only part of the column I take issue with is when Mike calls the bill barely better than nothing.  Although I have my fair share of criticisms, I’ve written before that I feel this bill does plenty more good than harm.  I’m reposting the column below.

Don’t put climate on back burner

By Mike Tidwell

July 7, 2009

President Barack Obama may have made history last November, but he seems deaf to history’s loudest call right now. The president clearly believes that health care reform, above all else, will define his early presidency. But even if Mr. Obama scores total success on health care, few future Americans will care or remember as long as the Earth’s ailing atmosphere goes untreated.

Climate change, it turns out, is the ultimate public health issue. And yet the House of Representatives passed a mere band-aid of a bill last month on global warming. Why so weak? Because Mr. Obama, with his 63 percent approval rating, was surprisingly AWOL for most the climate debate, essentially telling House leaders to hurry up and pass something – anything – so we can get on to the real issue of health care.

But cheap prescription drugs won’t do much good if our cities have filthy drinking water in coming years due to global warming. A “public option” on heath insurance? I’m all for it – but it will mean little if killer heat waves and mega-droughts parch the nation while Florida becomes a chain of malarial islands

If this sounds melodramatic, keep in mind that a joint report from 13 federal agencies – released by the White House last month – stated that, due to global warming, hurricanes are already getting bigger and droughts are lasting longer in America. And sea levels will continue to rise, up to four feet this century, according to the massive scientific report.

If there’s one thing health experts agree on, it’s this: Clean water is a core determinant of good health. Just visit Calcutta or much of Africa to see what a bacteria-laced gulp does to a 5-year-old child. It’s alarming, then, to know that New York City alone has 14 wastewater treatment plants located exactly at sea level now. And Philadelphia’s main source of drinking water is already dangerously vulnerable to saltwater intrusion from rising seas.

Where will the clean water come from along much of the East Coast after just one or two more feet of ocean rise? Will we ring ourselves and our sanitation infrastructure in levees, living at the mercy of earthen walls? That didn’t work out well for the health of New Orleans.

No one’s arguing that health care reform should take a back seat to climate action. It’s just that if we do one without the other – if we make short-term health care affordable but long-term health systems impossible – we’ve failed.

The truth is, we can do both. Drastically cutting our use of fossil fuels, especially coal, will simultaneously reduce a whole host of conventional pollution dangers, ranging from asthma to elevated mercury in our fish. These avoided health costs, combined with the growing affordability of fuel-efficient cars and powerful wind farms in the Midwest, mean even strong action on global warming will cost just a few cents per day for average Americans.

This is why Mr. Obama must take charge right now and totally redirect the climate debate in the Senate. The Waxman-Markey bill, narrowly approved by the House, is barely better than nothing at all. It sets weak reduction targets for greenhouse gases and gives free pollution permits to many of America’s dirtiest corporations. It strips the Environmental Protection Agency of the power to regulate carbon from coal plants and creates a mind-numbing trading system of carbon derivatives.

The Senate must now make a U-turn, heading back to the president’s own original climate framework unveiled last February. All polluters must pay for greenhouse gas emissions, the president said then. No exceptions. And 80 percent of the money should be rebated directly to middle- and lower-income Americans. That leaves a healthy $15 billion per year for investments in clean energy and green jobs. The Obama approach was simple, fair and – with populist appeal – built to last.

But the president didn’t fight for the plan, yielding to House Democrats who caved in to the pollution lobby. How do we get back on track? First, look at health care reform again. It, not climate policy, dominates the front pages for one simple reason: It’s what Mr. Obama talks about loudest. He’s involved. With a similarly strong voice on global warming in the Senate, Mr. Obama can redirect national attention toward a more complete, long-term picture of health.

James Hansen, America’s top climate scientist, says we have less than 10 years to reverse the rise in greenhouse gases worldwide. Less than 10 years to save the planet’s health and our own. Mr. Obama must now be our Lincoln – our Churchill. The ineffectual U.S. House bill passed last month shows Congress simply cannot do it without a push from the president.

As U.S. climate policy is ironed out in coming months, American voters should beseech the White House at every legislative step: Where was Mr. Obama on key committee votes? The floor debate? How much did he do? How hard did he work?

We must ask these questions now, holding our president accountable, knowing that future Americans – their health at stake – will ask the same questions for centuries to come.

Mike Tidwell is executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in Takoma Park and author of “Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast.” His e-mail is

Blog at