The Environment in Focus | WYPR

The Environment in Focus

Wednesday 7:46 am and 5:45 pm

The Environment in Focus is a weekly perspective on the issues and people changing our natural world.  Tom Pelton gives you a tour of this landscape every Wednesday at 7:46 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.

Tom Pelton is a national award-winning environmental journalist, formerly with The Baltimore Sun.  He is the author of the book, The Chesapeake in Focus: Transforming the Natural World, published by Johns Hopkins University Press.  Pelton is also Director of Communications at the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

The Environment in Focus is independently owned and distributed by Environment in Focus Radio to WYPR and other stations.   The program is sponsored by the Abell Foundation, which is working to enhance the quality of life in Baltimore and in Maryland.  The views expressed are solely Pelton's.  You can contact him at pelton.tom@gmail.com

Archive of Environment in Focus for 2010-2014

Tom Pelton

 

In these times of the coronavirus, the public health strategy of “social distancing” is hard on people because humans are, by their nature, a social species.

Wikimedia Commons

 

Kavin Senapathy is a freelance journalist who was drawn to the field of science blogging nine years ago. It was just after her first child was born and she found herself obsessed with and terrified about her daughter’s health.

Tom Pelton

Maryland faces a critical decision point in its decades-long effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The poultry industry on the Eastern Shore produces about 300 million chickens a year. But the byproduct is about a half billion pounds more manure than can be absorbed by crops when farmers spread the litter as fertilizer for their corn and soybeans. That leads to runoff of phosphorus pollution into rivers, streams and the Bay.

In about two years, pollution control regulations imposed by Governor Larry Hogan’s administration will restrict manure application on about 160,000 acres of farms on the Eastern Shore that are already overloaded with phosphorus. But state officials do not know what to do with all the extra tons manure that farmers will no longer be able to spread under the new rules.

Wikimedia Commons

It’s a watershed moment in American politics. Climate change and the environment, for the first time, have risen to become among the top issues in a Presidential election. President Trump is campaigning against the whole idea of environmental regulations and has falsely labelled climate change a “hoax.”

In stark contrast, all of his Democratic challengers are pledging unprecedented action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Here’s Senator Bernie Sanders: “What the scientists are telling us is – in fact – they have under-estimated the severity and speed in which climate change is damaging not only our country, but the entire world.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden said: “I think it is the existential threat to humanity. It’s the number one issue.”

Mayor Mike Bloomberg made this statement: “Climate change is not a science problem – it is a political problem.”

And Senator Elizabeth Warren proclaimed: “I support the Green New Deal.  We have got to make change. We’ve got to make big change. And we’ve got to do it fast – we’re running out of time.”

But what’s fascinating about the Democratic candidates is that all of them – while promising action on the climate – have completely abandoned the main policy vehicle for combating global warming that Democrats, and even a few Republicans, championed until a few years ago.

That was the imposition of a carbon tax – or a Wall Street friendly “cap and trade” system – to gradually increase the price of oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuels to create economic incentives, in the free market system, for cleaner energy.

Island Press

The home-made looking video is popular on YouTube, with hundreds of thousands of views. It was produced by a group called the “Science Moms,” who say they’re just regular mothers with PhD’s who want to set the record straight.  In a seemingly casual and candid way, they mock the concept that natural things are better, and tell their viewers not to buy organic produce.

“The marketing behind organic farming has really convinced people that organic is more environmentally friendly, and doesn’t use pesticides and is healthier – and the data does not support any of those claims,” one of the Science Moms proclaims.  “There’s no health benefits from eating an organic diet.  There’s nothing really to be gained. It’s just more expensive.”

What the Science Moms do not tell the viewers is that the group has ties to the Monsanto chemical company and its owner, Bayer pharmaceuticals.  One of the main Science Moms is actually policy director for Biology Fortified Inc., which Monsanto has described in internal memos as a ‘partner’ in its public relations battle to dispute the cancer-causing properties of one of its products, glyphosate, the world’s most popular weed killer.

Glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp, is sprayed on millions of acres of non-organic crops around the world.

Public Domain Pictures

Jay Falstad, Executive Director of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, first became obsessed with balloons a few years ago. He was out strolling with his daughter and noticed some litter.

“My daughter and I found a cluster of balloons here on Unicorn Lake,” Falstad said. “And on those balloons was a note written in Sharpie pen that said, ‘If you find these balloons, call this number. We want to see how far they’ve travelled.’ And so, I called the number and it turned out they originated from Dayton, Ohio, and had been released four days earlier, and travelled almost 500 miles and ended up landing here. It was after that that I began to see balloons everywhere. You’d see them in farm fields, and hanging in trees.”

He was not the only one haunted by balloons…kind of like a character in the movie It based on the Stephen King novel about the sinister clown. But in this case, the victim was the Chesapeake Bay.

mgaleg.maryland.gov

While many Republicans have been in denial about the realities of climate science – notably the denier-in-chief, President Trump, who falsely labels climate change a “hoax” – Baltimore County State Senator Chris West is what you might call a fact-based Republican.

West, a 69-year-old resident of West Towson, is an attorney and former President of the Bar Association of Baltimore City.

He is co-sponsoring a bill, introduced on Friday in the Maryland senate, that would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the state by requiring a gradual shutdown of the state’s six remaining coal-fired power plants between 2023 and 2030.

“I’ll be honest with you,” West said. “I don’t want my grandchildren turning to their dad and saying, ‘You know, we’ve got this terrible environmental problem, and we’re facing daytime temperatures of somewhere between 105 and 110 degrees in the middle of the summer, what did Granddad do about this?’ And I don’t want my son telling my grandchildren, ‘Well, your grandfather – he didn’t believe global warming was real. And he did nothing.’ My feeling is, it’s pretty clear it’s real, and we need to do something.”

The Intercept

Since 1971, 10 states – led by Oregon and Vermont – have passed bottle deposit laws. These so-called “bottle bills” have proven to increase recycling rates and reduce litter on roadsides and in waterways. The laws give people a financial incentive, often five or ten cents per bottle or can, to pick up the litter and return the containers for a cash reward.

For example, Michigan passed a 10 cent bottle deposit law in 1976 and today enjoys a 95 percent recycling rate for bottles and cans. That’s almost four times the 25 percent rate in Maryland, which does not have a deposit law.

Six times in Maryland over the last decade, legislators have proposed bottle bills. Predictably, soda and beer manufacturers and store chains have fought the laws, because they don’t want to lose any income or take responsibility for handling dirty containers.

But that’s not why the bottle bills keep dying in Maryland and other states. The really effective lobbying against them in recent years has come from county and city recycling programs. These local government programs do not want to lose any of their own income, either from re-selling glass and aluminum or through grants from phony environmental groups such as Keep America Beautiful that are quietly bankrolled by the soda companies.

Investigative reporter Sharon Lerner popped the top off of this recycling corruption scandal in a recent article published on the news website The Intercept.

Wikipedia

To the strains of Lee Greenwood’s song “Proud to be an American,” President Trump took the stage at the American Farm Bureau convention in Austin last week and boasted about repealing water pollution control regulations across the U.S.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all – the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the U.S. Rule,” Trump said, to cheers from the crowd. “It’ s gone.”

The Obama Administration imposed the Waters of the U.S. Rule in 2015 to protect intermittent streams and scattered wetlands that are not adjacent to rivers or lakes. But what Trump did not tell the farm convention is that the Obama-era regulations already exempted most farming practices, as did previous federal and state wetlands protection rules.

So what was at stake in the Trump Administration’s elimination of the Waters of the U.S. rule was not the growing of corn, soybeans or other crops. It was the ability of farmers to sell their land to real-estate developers like Trump who want to build malls and subdivisions on farms with wetlands.

Tom Pelton

In North Central Maryland, near the base of the Conowingo hydroelectric dam on the Susquehanna River, a small group of protesters rallied on Friday. They were complaining about an agreement that the dam’s owners, the Exelon Corporation, recently signed with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Administration.

The protesters’ signs read, “Don’t let Exelon off the hook!” and, “We all live downstream.”

Ted Evgeniadis is the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, a nonprofit clean water advocacy group that organized the event. “The reservoir is at capacity, and as it stands now, the dam is a ticking time bomb toward the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

His group is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject a proposed relicensing of the 92-year old dam for another half century. Evgeniadis’ main concern is that Maryland’s agreement with Exelon – which would allow the relicensing -- does nothing to solve the biggest problem with the dam. Over the decades, millions of tons of tons of sediment and pollution have built up behind the dam, and the muck keep getting flushed downriver into the Chesapeake Bay during big storms.

Office of Governor Larry Hogan

In 1983, 1987 and 2000, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the other Chesapeake Bay region states all signed much-heralded agreements to clean up the nation’s largest estuary.

But these agreements all failed to make any progress in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay for a simple reason: They were purely voluntary, with no enforcement mechanism.

Then, in 2010, the Obama Administration – after being sued – issued a new and revised Bay cleanup plan that everyone praised as being the real breakthrough. For the first time, EPA set firm numeric pollution limits for the states, and threatened to penalize the states that failed to meet the cleanup targets by the deadline of 2025.

For a few years, there was real hope for the Bay’s restoration – despite the stubborn refusal of the Bay’s biggest polluter, Pennsylvania, to stop dumping on its downstream neighbors in Maryland and Virginia.

Then, on January 3, the Trump Administration’s EPA caused an uproar. The Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Program director suddenly announced that the 2010 agreement was, in fact, not enforceable, and was instead just “informational” and “aspirational” – just like all the previous failed bay cleanup agreements.  The Trump EPA would do nothing to crack down on Pennsylvania’s pollution.

The Maryland General Assembly’s annual legislative session opened today. The two most important environmental issues being debated this year in Annapolis are – once again -- climate change and the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

State Delegate Kumar Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County and chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, is proposing legislation that would shut down Maryland’s six remaining coal fired power plants.

“I do want to emphasize the pernicious effects of coal on our environment,” Barve told a telephone press conference organized by the Sierra Club. “Of course, coal not only produces more carbon dioxide for the atmosphere, but coal soot – the soot that’s not caught by the power plants, and ends up going into the atmosphere. It’s a terrible pollutant for human and animal life.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

During the last decade, when the Chesapeake Bay region states publicly promised to increase their efforts to clean up the nation’s largest estuary, four of the six states quietly cut funding for the state environmental agencies responsible for carrying out that cleanup.

Among the worst offenders, according to an examination of state budget documents by the Environmental Integrity Project, was Pennsylvania, the state that contributes by far the most pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Governors and lawmakers in the Keystone State cut funding and staffing at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection by about 15 percent between 2008 and 2018, even as the overall state budget grew by 18 percent over this time.

 

Bonnie Bick is an unassuming person. She’s a 72-year-old former flower child and pre-school teacher with a soft voice, who has little money and few possessions, but loves walking in the woods near her small brick house in southern Maryland.

But among land conservationists, she is a hero – a fierce and tenacious fighter who outlasted developers and the political establishment in Charles County to stop a highway project – the Cross County Connector, which would have fed sprawling subdivisions. The project has now turned into a proposal for a much greener bike path surrounded by trees.

“It’s a very exciting end for that terrible, long ordeal – fighting the Cross County Connector,” Bick reflected. “It was like a miracle to stop it.”

Over three decades of unpaid and often unrecognized behind-the-scenes work, Bick took on development projects that many people thought were unstoppable -- but it was the gentle, patient, tenacious Bonnie Bick who proved unstoppable. The result: She quietly helped to save thousands of acres of green space in a state increasingly consumed by cul-de-sacs and strip malls.

Wikimedia Commons

During a recent press event, President Trump declared that he is urging his Environmental Protection Agency to weaken federal water conservation standards because of troubles that unnamed friends of his have been having with their toilets.   

It was 9 am Friday outside an office tower on Charles Street in downtown Baltimore. Thirteen activists wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with a rising sun emblem and wielding bright yellow and orange cardboard shields gathered to protest at the office of U.S. Senator Ben Cardin.

Evelyn Hammid, a local leader of the group, called the Sunrise Movement, explained what the organization is all about.

“We are a movement of young people across the country mobilizing to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process, and ensure that we have a just transition to renewable energy," Hammid said.

The group’s goal that day was to march into Senator Cardin’s office and demand that he sign a written pledge to support the Green New Deal. It's a resolution that outlines a World War II-scale mobilization to transform the U.S. economy so that it has net zero greenhouse gas emissions within 10 years. 

I ask her:  In this era of the Trump Administration’s outright denial of climate science, is it perhaps politically counter-productive to protest a Democrat like Ben Cardin who has a generally strong record on the environment?

Wikimedia Commons

More than two decades ago, an outbreak of toxic algae and fish kills in the Pocomoke River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore set off alarms about the dire state of the Chesapeake Bay’s health.

On December 1, 1997, a blue ribbon panel of experts, led by former Governor Harry Hughes, recommended that Maryland take “immediate” action to halt the over-application of poultry manure to farm fields, which was feeding the algal blooms.

The growth of industrial scale poultry operations – and the massive amount of excess manure they produce – had long been suspected as a major source of phosphorus overload in the soil and pollution in the Eastern Shore’s rivers. 

But the call for immediate limits on manure spreading ran immediately into the political power of the farm lobby in Maryland state government.  And so nothing significant happened on this problem for 13 years.

Wikimedia Commons

Last November, just after Thanksgiving, General Motors announced that it would eliminate 4,000 auto manufacturing jobs by shutting down plants in Baltimore County; Warren, Michigan; and Lordstown, Ohio.

But then in March, GM switched gears. The company said it was building a new $300 million auto plant north of Detroit. However, the new plant in Orion, Michigan, would employ only 400 workers – not 4,000. And the workers would primarily be building electric vehicles, not petroleum-fueled cars and trucks.

The change was a sign of the times. The growing popularity of Tesla electric cars has proven that zero emission vehicles are increasingly marketable and functional. And California’s tightening of fuel-efficiency standards – although under regulatory assault by the Trump Administration—is, in fact, driving GM, Ford and other manufacturers to build more electric vehicles.

Wikimedia Commons

Populations of frogs and other amphibians have been declining around the world and biologist Lisa Schloegel believes that she may have discovered why.

Schloegel and her fellow researchers concluded that the breeding and farming of bullfrogs in Brazil, Taiwan and China, and the international sales of these live frogs may be spreading a fungus that causes a disease called chytridiomycosis, which is often deadly in amphibians.

Although bullfrogs are native to North America part of the natural ecosystem here, their sale, release and multiplication around the world is also creating an invasive species problem in other countries, as the large and aggressive bullfrogs gobble up smaller frogs and amphibians.

Wikimedia commons

Around the world, humans have wiped out 60 percent of all mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, according to a report by the World Wildlife Foundation.

To cite one just example in North America, seventy percent of shorebird populations have disappeared since 1973. That was when I was a child strolling on the beach. 

Modern civilization is wreaking havoc on biodiversity, with our industries, population growth and pesticides gradually killing off most large forms of life that do not serve humanity or feed off of us.

This is frightening. But at the same time, the average life span of people around the world has more than doubled since 1900, because of medical improvements, advances in farming technology and rising incomes.

This conflict is sometimes described as the “environmentalists paradox.” The paradox, in a nutshell, is that the quality of life for humans has improved even as we’ve pillaged and destroyed the planet’s natural ecosystems.

The Intercept

Since 1971, 10 states – led by Oregon and Vermont – have passed bottle deposit laws. These so-called “bottle bills” have proven to increase recycling rates and reduce litter on roadsides and in waterways. The laws give people a financial incentive, often five or ten cents per bottle or can, to pick up the litter and return the containers for a cash reward.

For example, Michigan passed a 10 cent bottle deposit law in 1976 and today enjoys a 95 percent recycling rate for bottles and cans. That’s almost four times the 25 percent rate in Maryland, which does not have a deposit law.

Six times in Maryland over the last decade, legislators have proposed bottle bills. Predictably, soda and beer manufacturers and store chains have fought the laws, because they don’t want to lose any income or take responsibility for handling dirty containers.

But that’s not why the bottle bills keep dying in Maryland and other states. The really effective lobbying against them in recent years has come from county and city recycling programs. These local government programs do not want to lose any of their own income, either from re-selling glass and aluminum or through grants from phony environmental groups such as Keep America Beautiful that are quietly bankrolled by the soda companies.

Investigative reporter Sharon Lerner popped the top off of this recycling corruption scandal in a recent article published on the news website The Intercept.

Thomas Easley

Thomas RaShad Easley grew up in an apartment in an urban neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala. But he learned to love nature, in part because his grandparents cultivated a lush garden amid the concrete and blacktop.

He was also an Eagle Scout, and Scouting got him out of the city and into the woods, where he enjoyed  spending time at Tannehill State Park.

“Yes, we would go camping, and I’m glad that we did it. Because at first, I didn’t want to do it,” Easley recalled. “And then, when we got out there, it was so much fun. You know, me and the guys. And the other good thing about our scout troop was we were a diverse scout troop. So we had black, white, as well as brown young men in our troop.  So it was almost like a social experiment – Troop 49 in Birmingham, Alabama.”

Easley went on to earn an undergraduate degree in forest science from Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University; a master’s degree in forest genetics is from Iowa State University; and eventually a doctorate from North Carolina State University. He is now an assistant dean at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

But in his work with environmental groups, he noticed that they were not like Troop 49 in Birmingham.  They were almost entirely white – with very few African Americans like him, or Latinos or other minorities. This ethnic narrowness caused a problematic narrowness of focus – in terms of both audience and subject matter.

Tom Pelton

Last week, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young abruptly announced the retirement of city’s Director of Public Works, Rudy Chow, amid public controversy surrounding steep rate hikes that have more than tripled water and sewer bills.

One of the most expensive infrastructure projects that Chow launched was right here, in Baltimore’s Hanlon Park. Hundreds of trees have been cut down and the grass torn up into a mud and gravel landscape rumbling with bulldozers.

“This was the most wooded areas of the Ashburton community in Northwest Baltimore,” said Mark Reutter a reporter for the news website Baltimore Brew who has been writing about the project. “This park had 198 mostly old-growth trees, all of which have been removed to place these tanks.”

The tanks he’s referring to are massive underground drinking water holding tanks that the Baltimore Department of Public Works is building both here and beneath part of Druid Lake in Druid Park to replace old open drinking water reservoirs and comply with EPA regulations.

But Reutter’s investigations revealed that the drinking water projects, under Chow’s leadership, were almost $200 million more expensive than they had to be, and delayed for years.

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Many of us would like to gaze into a crystal ball and see what the future will be like.

Well, Matt Fitzpatrick, an ecologist and associate professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, did just that for Baltimore. And he discovered that our future is … Mississippi.

In an article published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, Fitzpatrick examined the best available climate change modeling data for 540 North American cities sixty years from now, assuming that current rates of greenhouse gas pollution continue.

“By 2080, we expect Baltimore’s climate to become most like those found in the Deep South today,” Fitzpatrick said. “So we are talking Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, East Texas, those kinds of places.  Actually the best match is a town called Cleveland, Mississippi, in the northwestern part of the state.”

In case you are not familiar with this non-Ohio Cleveland, Cleveland, Mississippi, is a depopulating town of about 12,000 souls in the Mississippi Delta. It has a per capita income less than half that of Baltimore’s and is most famous as the former home to the legendary blues musician W.C. Handy, who called himself the father of the blues.

Tom Pelton

It was a late Saturday afternoon, and I was on the Chesapeake Bay, on a peninsula of land called Taylor’s Island, about 15 miles southwest of Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

I dragged my kayak across slabs of concrete beside the road and then launched into the Little Choptank River. Blue crabs were dense in the nooks between the rocks, scuttling away when I dipped my paddle into the waters.

As the sun slid lower on the horizon, I headed out across the rippled, olive-green surface toward a tuft of trees rising from the waters, about a half mile out. Fish jumped. An osprey circled and then dove.

My destination was James Island. Settled by the English in the 1600’s, James Island was once a 1,300 acre expanse of forested land -- a fishing and farming community with 20 homes, a school, store, and Methodist church.  But it was abandoned to rising sea levels in the 1910’s. James Island is one of hundreds of Chesapeake Bay islands that have been consumed by rising sea levels driven by climate change.

Tom Pelton

Almost four years ago, the sewers of Baltimore erupted in a scandal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment had sued the city to force it to fix its leaky and overwhelmed sewer system and stop discharging raw waste into the Inner Harbor and urban streams.

The Baltimore Department of Public Works more than tripled water and sewer rates, but mismanaged the sewer system upgrade project. City workers shut down sewage outfall pipes before it increased the capacity of the system. This caused raw waste to erupt into the basements of hundreds of homes.

Natasza Bock-Singleton, a community leader and mother of three from southwest Baltimore, described what these sewage floods are like during a public hearing on the problem Monday at the Maryland Department of the Environment.  She said her home suffered more than $25,000 in damage from three sewage floods.

“It’s a geyser of human waste,” said Bock-Singleton. “And just to clarify – it doesn't happen when it starts to rain. There is a little bit of a lull.  You have a rain storm, and you think you might have a problem, so you go in your basement and you wait and you watch (the toilet) and you put everything else on hold.  And there is a little gurgle, so you call 311, and just as the rain stops, and the sun comes out, and the birds chirp, and rainbows come, then the geyser of human waste comes up.”

Tom Pelton

On Monday in Washington D.C., three blocks north of the White House, climate activists shut down traffic by banging drums, chanting, and dragging a 24-foot long boat into the middle of a busy intersection.

The sailboat was painted bright pink on one side, and yellow on the other, and emblazoned with the words, “Tell the Truth,” and “Rebel for Life.”  As more than 40 police officers surrounded the protesters, one of the crew raised a flag over the ship with a black X surrounded by a circle. It’s the symbol of a group called the Extinction Rebellion.

One of the protesters, Nadine Bloch of Tacoma Park, explained what the advocacy organization is. “The Extinction Rebellion is a group that’s global, that’s working on moving governments and others to take responsibility and change what we’re doing,” Block said.  “The goal is to actually address the climate crisis now and keep fossil fuels in the ground and make sure the government is doing what it needs to do to keep our climate change in check.”

Tom Pelton

On Friday, groups of students around the world plan to walk out of classes and hold marches and protests to demand government action on climate change.

Globally, the youth protests are being inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist named Greta Thunberg.  She held a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court today and told elected officials: “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists and I want you to unite behind the science.”

In Baltimore, several students have been influenced by Thunberg’s leadership. A coalition of activists plans to meet at 8:30 am on Friday at the Bryn Mawr School at 109 West Melrose Avenue in North Baltimore. The students will then march south down Charles Street and hold a demonstration at noon at the Inner Harbor.

Hachette Books

One of the biggest obstacles to dealing with the problem of climate change is that it will not impact everyone equally.

Even if temperatures soar, coastal cities are flooded, and drought makes water supplies dwindle, the rich will still be able to turn up their air conditioning, jet off to Aspen, and pay a few bucks more for bottled water.

And it’s these millionaires and billionaires  -- like the current occupants of the White House -- who control the levers of government in the United States and other countries. They decide whether or not we should change our fuel consumption or lifestyles.

Meanwhile, the people who will suffer and die from global warming are the poor. They don’t have air conditioning when temperatures hit 104 degrees, often live in older urban like New Orleans or Baltimore beside the rising waters, and will be powerless if their food and water becomes too expensive.

This is one of the insights of author Bryan Walsh’s new book, End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World.

Wikimedia Commons

Twenty years ago, following a trend of Republican-style free-market deregulation across the country, the Democratic-led Maryland General Assembly passed a law called the Electric Customer Choice and Competition Act of 1999.

The whole point of the law was to make electricity cheaper for average folks. The idea was to give people the freedom to choose whether to keep buying from old-fashioned, regulated public utilities like BGE or PEPCO, or sign contracts with a whole galaxy of new, unregulated electric providers.

Utility executives who pushed the scheme made millions.

But customers did not make out so well. Two decades after the deregulation law passed, a pair of authoritative reports -- by the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel and the Abell Foundation -- have concluded that Maryland rate payers were ripped off and are now paying more, not less, as promised.

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