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

Archive of Environment in Focus for 2010-2014

Tom Pelton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has criticized Pennsylvania for being the state that contributes by far the most pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and the state that has done the least to meet its cleanup obligations.

But the problem in Pennsylvania is a political one, because many local voters don’t care about the Chesapeake Bay because they don’t live near it.

So I worked with my colleagues at the Environmental Integrity Project to investigate the question:  Well, how is Pennsylvania doing on enforcing the Clean Water Act to protect local waterways in its own back yard, in the state Capital?

We examined fiveyears of public records and found that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been taking a lax approach to sewage discharges in Harrisburg. The state agency has penalized only 20 percent of 131 self-reported illegal sewage discharges from the city’s water and sewer authority since 2015.

Tom Pelton

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, at the very end of a long peninsula reaching out into the Chesapeake Bay, is a remote and isolated crabbing town called Deal Island.

The place is so little-known and off the grid that it is often mistaken for the better known town of Deal, Maryland – on the Western Shore. But this is a different place, all the way on the other side of the Bay. And the only way to get to Deal Island is down a long road leading west from Princes Anne through vast and open wetlands and over a narrow bridge.

The town is dominated by a wooden dock, piled with crab pots. A waterman’s bar called “Arby’s”  doubles a general store, and about 20 workboats come and go.

A skipjack called the Somerset is tied up beside the boat ramp, its canvas sails furled and streaks of rust tracing its white wooden hull. It’s a sign of this town’s still-living connections to the Chesapeake’s history, when thousands of these single-masted ships dredged oysters from the bay bottom.

D Coetzee/flickr creative commons

President Trump’s official campaign website features a new product for sale: Red plastic drinking straws with the word “Trump” emblazoned on their side.

The price: $15 for a pack of 10. The website advertises them this way: “Liberal paper straws don’t work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Apparently, Trump voters are snapping them up – despite the fact that, at the price of a dollar and a half for each straw, the Trump straws are about 75 times more expensive than biodegradable paper straws. Politico reports that the Trump campaign has already raised almost half-million dollars selling plastic straws.

Now, you might think, well that’s just funny. Trump supporters are gleefully trolling liberals and environmentalists by saying, in effect, “You say the ocean is full of plastic trash?  Your beaches are covered in litter? Stick a Trump straw in your political correctness …and your biodegradable straw mandates.”

Tom Pelton

Recycling programs across the U.S. are suffering or shutting down. This is because China – until recently, the world’s largest importer of recyclable material – imposed a ban on more imports amid its trade war with the Trump Administration.

This is unfortunate. But it is not the end of recycling. There are dozens of other ways people can recycle, other than at the curbside. You can buy and sell furniture and home goods at yard sales. Folks can also donate goods to Goodwill and buy things there, instead of spending 10 times as much at the Gap or Urban Outfitters.

I recently visited Goodwill of the Chesapeake on its 100th anniversary of public service to the Baltimore area.  For a century, the nonprofit organization has been taking donated clothes and goods from the public and providing jobs and employment training to those most in need.

Tom Pelton

It was a hot Friday afternoon, with mounds of white clouds in a dazzling blue sky, and I was hiking along the gravel of the Chesapeake & Ohio canal trail in Western Maryland. 

To my right, down a steep, wooded embankment flowed the waters of the Potomac River. The river here, at a place called the Paw Paw Bends, twists and snakes in five horseshoe-shaped turnarounds within a six-mile stretch.

To the left of the trail is a muddy ditch, spouting with wetlands plants. It’s all that’s left of the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The canal was built from 1836 to 1850 to carry coal and other goods from the Appalachian Mountains 184 miles down to Washington, D.C.

I pass a stand of sycamores trees, and suddenly, up ahead, I see something dramatic:  The gaping mouth of an ancient-looking tunnel, carved from rock to allow the canal and trail to pass through the mountains.

This is the entrance to the Paw Paw Tunnel -- in my view, one of the most amazing places in Maryland for hikers and nature lovers to visit, and a gem in the chain of scenic wonders that line the C & O Canal Trail National Historic Park.

Wikimedia Commons

As he runs for re-election, President Trump is portraying himself as the man who turned around the American energy industry and rescued it from a hostile Obama Administration that strangled energy innovators with regulations.

“The previous administration waged a relentless war on American energy,” Trump said during a July 8 speech on the environment at the White House.  "They can't do that. They sought to punish our workers, our producers, and manufacturers.”

The Trump Administration has been good to energy innovators?  Tell that to Hans Wittich.  He’s a Baltimore area businessman, president of the Solar Gaines solar panel installation company based in Hunt Valley. In part because of technological advances and falling prices of solar panels, under the Obama Administration, Wittich’s business grew from two employees in 2009 to 45 in 2017.

Then President Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels manufactured in China – raising their prices to Wittich’s customers and undermining financial support for his industry. Wittich was forced to cut his workforce by more than 40 percent, from 45 employees down to 25.

“You know, as a business owner, we never anticipated those layoffs, and you feel badly about it,” Wittich said.  “I mean, these are people whose families depend on the income, so we’ve been very careful about re-hiring.  We’ve looked to subcontract some stuff so that we don’t over hire.”

Crown Publishing Group

In the science fiction film The Matrix, the global environment has been destroyed. But most people don’t know it, because their minds are caught up in a software program and all they see is a beautiful, computer generated reality while their bodies lie in metal and glass capsules.

To David Wallace-Wells, the movie is a good analogy for what advancing technology is doing to people’s ability to see, and therefore care about, the ecological damage we are inflicting on the earth. His new book: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, explores the intersection between people’s growing obsession with iPhones and digital images and the widespread lack of concern about the very real floods, wildfires, pollution and plastic trash all around us in the real world.

Here’s Wallace-Wells discussing how people respond to climate change. “The Matrix is absolutely right that one way we may respond it to try to concoct, or enact, false bubbles in which we can continue to live or pretend to live in a kind of time of plenty and paradise, when – in fact, in reality – we are living in a much, much more degraded landscape,” he said in an interview.

Wikimedia Commons

The Trump Administration is proposing to roll back car and truck fuel-efficiency standards that were imposed by the Obama Administration to cut down on the burning of petroleum and reduce the greenhouse gas pollution driving climate change.

The main public argument the Trump EPA is making for this de-regulation is the suggestion that smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles are more dangerous to their drivers in crashes than larger, heavier gas guzzlers like SUV’s, crossovers and pickup trucks.

Here’s Bill Wehrum, chief of the EPA’s air program, testifying before a U.S. House committee on June 20 about the Trump Administration’s so-called SAFE (Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient) vehicles rule proposed for the years 2021 through 2026.

“The proposal would revise existing fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards to give the American people greater access to safer, more affordable vehicles,” Wehrum said. “The proposal estimates that the preferred alternative would prevent thousands of on-road fatalities and injuries.”

It should be noted that Wehrum resigned six days after this testimony amid ethics investigations into his former work as a lobbyist at a firm that represented polluting industries, including clients – petroleum refiners – who would profit from the more relaxed fuel-efficiency standards Wehrum was promoting.

But beyond this ethical issue, what about the broader assertion that bigger vehicles are safer?

Wikimedia Commons

A heat wave in Europe this week drove up temperatures to a record-breaking 115 degrees in France.  In the American Midwest, scientists said climate change contributed to torrential downpours that flooded farms and killed livestock.

In Delaware Bay, rising water temperatures are playing a role in a small but increasing number of cases of swimmers becoming infected with a  flesh-eating disease called vibrio that normally only lives in tropical waters, according to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

With all of these climate-related impacts unfolding, a reporter asked President Trump at an international economics conference in Japan on Saturday why he is rolling back environmental regulations and pulling out of an international agreement, the Paris Climate Accord, meant to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing global warming.

Here’s how the President responded. “I’m not looking to put our companies out of business,” Trump said at the G20 conference. “I’m not looking to create a standard that is so high that we’re going to lose 20 to 25 percent of our production.  I’m not willing to do that.  We have the cleanest water we’ve ever had.  We have the cleanest air.  You saw the reports that came out recently – we have the cleanest air we’ve ever had.”

This is an argument that Trump and Congressional Republicans have frequently made for reducing pollution control regulations and slashing the budget of the EPA.  Essentially, the claim is that environmental regulations kill jobs and that our air and water are in good shape, so we don’t need the bureaucrats.

But this deserves some fact checking… and a reality check.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources

I was paddling down the Big Gunpowder Falls near Sparks, Maryland, when I saw a great blue heron standing on a log in the river, tall and elegant.   As I drifted closer, it launched into the air and flew over my head, its six-foot wingspan and knife-like beak all the more impressive at close range.

Nearby, atop the riverbank, was a house.  I thought:  what is the economic value of this heron to that homeowner? 

Would he be able to sell his house for $505,000 instead of $500,000 if a buyer saw the heron before agreeing to the price? Or maybe the location and the view of the river are all that matter in the fast-moving world of real estate transactions.

What if there were no more blue herons?  It’s not an idle thought.  During the quarter century after World War II, the spraying of the pesticide DDT almost eliminated the species – as it almost killed off bald eagles, osprey and other fish-eating birds.  EPA’s ban on DDT in 1972 brought all these birds back, in big numbers.

But now the Trump Administration is proposing to dramatically shrink EPA. And this raises in my mind again the question of economic value – the worth to capital markets -- of all the nonhuman life saved by EPA and environmental regulation.

Tom Pelton

It’s a warm June night and a full moon is painting a silvery path across the gentle ripples on Delaware Bay.

I’m on the beach, southeast of Dover.   And from the darkness of the bay, I watch what looks like an invading force of army helmets with eyes on them emerge from the murk to crowd, clatter and scrape against each other along the shoreline.

These are horseshoe crabs – prehistoric creatures that have been summoned by full moons and high tides like this for hundreds of millions of years to perform this springtime mass mating ritual on the beach.

Tom Pelton

It was a warm spring evening as I set off in a kayak from a boat ramp in Middletown, Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Baltimore, into the still waters of Swatara Creek.

A family of ducks, with a dozen ducklings, paddled in the river.  A pair of kayakers, father and son, came in off the waterway, dragging their boats up and laughing with each other. Children in their bathing suits splashed in the shallows at the boat launch.

As the sun set, illuminating  the clouds, I passed around a bend and, beyond the trees, saw the four enormous cooling towers of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.

It was 40 years ago, in 1979, that a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island triggered the evacuation or flight more 140,000 people from south central Pennsylvania. The incident – and the authorities’ bungled response to it -- generated so much fear that the nuclear industry never recovered in the U.S.

Fibonacci Blue/Wikimedia commons

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Chinese government’s crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrators. Many Americans used the occasion to criticize the Chinese government for being intolerant of public protests, and to feel good that such authoritarian behavior could never be tolerated in the U.S., where the rights to freedom of assembly and speech are enshrined in the Constitution.

After all, America was born in protest – with the Boston Tea Party. Nonviolent civil disobedience was the cornerstone of the abolition, suffrage, labor, and Civil Rights movements.

But over the last two years, a growing number of Republican states have been passing laws to outlaw and criminalize public protests, often threatening long prison sentences for activists.

A recent example was in Texas, where state legislators last week passed a law making it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison for protesters to try to interrupt the construction of oil and gas pipelines or any other so-called “critical infrastructure” projects.

Wikimedia Commons

Last year, record-breaking rains pummeled Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay, flushing farm fertilizer and runoff pollution from parking and roads lots into the estuary.

Many Chesapeake ecologists feared that the unprecedented downpours – partially driven by climate change – would reverse progress that the bay had been enjoying since the year 2010.

Well, the results finally came in last week and they were in some ways predictable.  The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Health’s annual report card on the bay found that the water clarity in the bay last year plummeted to a rating of 7 out of 100 – the second lowest figure on record.

But, here’s the surprising part:  the bay’s overall health dipped only slightly last year, from a 54 rating out of 100 in 2017 to a 46 in 2018. That’s much less of a slip than researchers expected with all the rainfall.

The main reason: Underwater grasses in the bay, which are critical habitat for crabs and fish and perhaps the Bay’s most important single health indicator, hung on despite the downpours, which normally smother grasses with runoff, sediment and mud.

Preliminary data from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science found that underwater grasses covered at least 86,000 acres of the bay last year (and that figure is likely to grow when the final numbers are submitted). That’s less than the almost 105,000 acres in 2017, but still about the fifth highest total on record since monitoring began in the late 1970s.

Wikimedia Commons

This is the call of a black skimmer.

Also called the stormgull or scissor bill, black skimmers are curious-looking birds that fish along the Atlantic Coast. They have black and white feathers, bright orange and black beaks and what looks like a ridiculous underbite. The lower portion of their beak juts far beyond their upper beak.

David Curson is Director of Bird Conservation at the National Audubon Society’s Maryland/DC chapter. He described how black skimmers use this seeming deformity in an ingenious an efficient way to trick and capture prey like no other creature on earth.

“They have a very interesting shaped beak where their lower mandible is much longer than the upper one,” Curson explained. “And they use this lower one to make a little disturbance in the water, as they fly along a straight line.  Now this attracts little fish, which are their main prey. And so then the black skimmer turns around and flies along the exact same path with its beak in the water again. And when it feels a fish, it snaps it up.”

Black skimmers return to the Maryland’s coast every spring to lay their eggs and raise their young on small, sandy islands that lie in the coastal bays between Assateague Island and Ocean City and the mainland.

A recent study by the Audubon Society, however, found that these sandy islands – which the birds need to protect their eggs from predators – are rapidly disappearing in part because of sea level rise driven by climate change.

Johns Hopkins University Press

It’s an hour after sunset on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Glenn Therres, a wildlife biologist and associate director at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, is up to his usual Friday night routine: prowling the back roads in a pickup truck, surveying frogs.

He pulls off on a swampy roadside near the Miles River and scrambles out to identify several species of amphibians by their trills and grunts.

“Each of the frogs has a unique call,”  Therres said. “Some of them are fairly similar but most you can distinguish from each other. So the little rattle-y sound here? Sounds like crickets?  Those are called northern cricket frogs. And they really sound like someone taking a can of paint and shaking it and hearing that little ball inside. That’s a cricket frog.  The bullfrogs are the kind of ‘mrrp, mrrp, mrrp.”’

Keeping track of frogs, toads, and salamanders is increasingly important because amphibians are in sharp decline around the world.  The journal Science recently published a study that found that an invasive species of fungus called "chytrid" is contributing to the decline of more than 500 species of amphibians globally.

Tom Pelton

At the far southern end of the Chesapeake Bay, Jonathan White, a former rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, directed a tour of the world’s largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk.

While some dismiss climate change as a hoax, Admiral White described the very real threat that sea-level rise caused by global warming poses even to the military.

“If we just did nothing with this base, it’s easy to see that in a worst-case scenario of a couple of meters of sea level rise by the end of the century, much of this base would not be usable,” said White, an oceanographer and former director of the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. “You wouldn’t even be able to get to the ships to even pull the ships in to the piers here. So you are going to have to do something to respond to that level of sea level rise.”

Wikimedia Commons

On Earth Day this year, the Trump Administration’s EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, appeared in a television interview in which he claimed America’s environment is dramatically cleaner than it used to be.

“A lot of younger people, a lot of Millennials voting for the first time, think that the state of the environment is horrible,” Wheeler said. “Actually, our air quality is 73 percent cleaner than it was in the 1970s. Back in the 1970’s, 40 percent of our drinking water systems did not meet the basic EPA regulations or standards. Today, 92 percent of our drinking water systems meet the EPA drinking water standards every single day. So we have clean air, we have clean water. But we can do better and we are doing better.”

This is a theme – that the environment is doing well-- often repeated by both the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans as they propose cutting EPA’s budget by 31 percent and slashing regulations that control air and water pollution.

The idea is this: If voters think they don’t really need EPA so much anymore – or more broadly, government in general – that will allow politicians to cut back government and give companies a freer hand to make more profits by dumping more pollution into our waterways and atmosphere.

The problem is that Andrew Wheeler’s comments contain narrow elements of truth, but are more generally misleading.

Tom Pelton

For 230 years, since the times of the French Revolution, a white ash tree grew in a forest beside a stream that much later became part of Baltimore. My house was built it its shadow in 1904. And by the time I moved in in 1998, its trunk was five feet across.

It was on this tree that I built a rope swing that my daughters – now off to college – flew on in their white first communion dresses when they were young.  Then all the neighborhood kids adopted the swing, to play on after school.

Last week, I called in a tree crew with a crane to cut it down.

The white ash had been infected with an invasive species of flying beetle from Asia: the emerald ash borer, which has been killing millions of ash trees across Maryland and the Eastern U.S. over the last decade and a half.

The loss of ash trees across my neighborhood in North Baltimore and the U.S. made me reflect on the often catastrophic impact of invasive species and globalization on our environment.

Over the long history of the Chesapeake Bay, those captivated by its beauty have often suffered from landscape amnesia.

We love and want to preserve what we see today: the shimmering waves.  The sailboats, spinnakers full.  The blue crabs scuttling in the shallows.

We want to save all that. But we do not remember the bay our grandparents knew.  The vast reefs of oysters, filtering and cleaning the water. The schools of American shad, swarming up rivers in the spring. The sturgeon, thick as living logjams. Because we never knew it, we do not miss it. And so, as a society, we are unwilling to invest the money and the political capital – and make the changes necessary -- to bring it back.


The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up its annual session at Midnight on Monday with a solemn and emotional tribute to House Speaker Michael Busch, the veteran lawmaker and Chesapeake Bay champion who died of pneumonia on Sunday.

Governor Larry Hogan addressed lawmakers: “God bless Speaker Mike Busch, and may God bless his family and all those who loved him,” Hogan said. “And may God continue to bless the great state of Maryland.”

In part as a tribute to Busch’s leadership, lawmakers passed important environmental legislation. This included a bill that would make Maryland the first state in the U.S. to ban Styrofoam food containers, reducing petroleum-based litter that does not break down in the environment. 

Legislators also voted to protect five oyster sanctuaries in the Chesapeake Bay that watermen have lobbied the Hogan Administration to open up to harvest. This pressure has come despite the reality that severe over-harvesting has helped to drive down oyster populations to about 1 percent of historic levels.

University of Maryland Extension Service

For the second year in a row, lawmakers in the Maryland House of Delegates voted to approve a bill that would outlaw an insecticide called chlorpyrifos. Farmers spray the chemical on apples, peaches and other fruits, but scientists have linked the pesticide to brain damage in children.

Delegate Dana Stein of Baltimore County, vice chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, sponsored the legislation that would ban chlorpyrifos.

“It’s been well documented in various scientific studies, including the EPA’s own studies, that this can cause neurological damage to children and infants,” said Stein.  “It’s hazardous to the farm workers who use it. And it’s harmful not just to people. It’s also been found to damage wildlife and aquatic life.”

The ban on the insecticide passed the House by a vote of 90 to 44 on March 15 – before it ran into trouble in the Senate.  The measure had been supported by many public health physicians and environmental organizations, which have compared the toxicity of chlorpyrifos to that of lead.

University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Many people think of climate change and sea-level rise as issues that may threaten future generations and far-flung locations.

But a Stanford University researcher recently published an innovative study that documented that rising sea levels, driven by global warming, for years have been eroding the annual revenues of businesses in Maryland’s state capital, Annapolis.

Researcher Miyuki Hino and colleagues studied decades of business receipts and parking lot records for shops and restaurants around the City Dock in Annapolis. They found a more than doubling over the last 20 years in the number of hours of lost business due to what is called “sunny day” flooding. That means high tides that creep up over the docks and flood parking lots and stores without any rainfall or high winds.

In 1950, there was no sunny day flooding in Annapolis. In 1997, businesses around City Dock lost 31 hours of business due to high tides literally lapping at their doors. By 2017, that total had grown to 66 hours.

Tom Pelton

A flood of words have been written about the recently departed Harry Hughes, the governor of Maryland from 1979 to 1987. But not enough has been said about the truly historic nature of his decision, in 1983, to organize and launch a six-state partnership to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

He created the first regional environmental effort of its kind in the world.

Here’s a recording I made of Hughes in 2015 reflecting on what inspired him to make the Chesapeake Bay his legacy.

“It runs right down the center of Maryland, and it sort of characterizes Maryland, I think,” Hughes said in a call from his home in Denton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “It’s a marvelous natural resource.  And it’s very unusual. Among all the bays of the world, this is a very unique one. It was an easy decision, as far as I was concerned, that we out to do whatever we can to preserve it.”

Tom Pelton

It’s a warm, spring afternoon in Baltimore. And in Druid Hill Park, on the east end of the park’s shimmering lake rises a 150-year-old, Moorish-style stone tower. It’s 30 feet tall, octagonal, with cloverleaf windows and a sweeping view of the rooftops and steeples of the city.

The tower stands at the top of a rolling hillside of grass that, every spring, is the scene of one of Baltimore’s most beautiful shows. Thousands of daffodils erupt into blossoms, creating waves of yellow that cascade down the green all the way to where trucks rumble past on the Jones Falls Expressway.

Today, the flowers are just green nubs trying to push their way up through the grass. But near the base of the hill, even the grass is having trouble fighting its way up into the light – because of what, at first glance, looks like a heavy, dirty snowfall.

It’s a blizzard of trash that has been thrown out of the windows of passing cars. Styrofoam cups and fast-food containers; liquor bottles and Monster energy drink cans; white grocery bags fluttering in the briars; even a broken fishing rod.

Local journalist and author Alec MacGillis has come here this Sunday afternoon to do something about it. It’s become an odd hobby of his: selecting a different trashed city corner every week or two and setting about to personally clean it all up.

Tom Pelton

Last week, the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House held its first oversight hearing into what the Trump Administration has been doing to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Voice of clerk during hearing: “Please rise and raise your right hand so you may be sworn in….”

The administration hired a former coal industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, to run EPA.  Among other cuts and rollbacks, Wheeler’s first act in office was to weaken pollution control rules for the management of coal ash dumps at power plants. These dumps are often unlined and leaking toxic metals including lead and arsenic into groundwater at more than 240 sites across the U.S., including in Maryland, according to utility company monitoring data.

This pollution poses a threat to streams, rivers, and drinking water supplies. But the loosening of rules is good news for Wheeler’s former clients in the coal business.  EPA predicts Wheeler’s regulatory change will save coal power plants about $30 million a year.

Sodanie Chea/Flickr

It’s almost impossible to walk into a convenience store, pass a bus stop, or even to watch You Tube videos these days without being assaulted with ads for vaping or electronic cigarettes.

This online ad features a cool-looking young actor on the beach, with the surf crashing behind him.

“Blue e-cigs,” the narrator says. “Blue lets me enjoy smoking without it affecting the people around me because it’s vapor, not tobacco smoke. That means there’s no ash. And best of all, no offensive odor.”

But is that really true – that vaping does not affect the people around you?  That it’s harmless, creating no indoor air pollution?

“No,” said Ana Maria Rule, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It is definitely not smoking, that’s a good distinction to make.  However, I don’t know where people get this idea that (vaping) is harmless because the chemicals that are being heated up from the liquid are not harmless chemicals.”

Wikimedia commons


Last week, the Baltimore City Council passed a bill that would significantly reduce air pollution from the city’s single largest source of emissions: the BRESCO trash burning incinerator beside Interstate 95.

The company that owns the 34-year-old incinerator, Wheelabrator, has warned that the pollution limits could force the shutdown of a facility that burns 700,000 tons of trash a year for Baltimore and surrounding counties and provides steam heat for downtown buildings.

This, in turn, could force Baltimore residents to pay millions of dollars more to truck the garbage to landfills. The move may require the expansion of the city’s landfill on Quarantine Road in far south Baltimore, which is nearing capacity.

Wheelabrator has called the city’s bill “unlawful” – and is threatening a lawsuit against Baltimore to keep operating.

But beyond this city action, state lawmakers are also teaming up on a separate state legislation that would undermine the incinerator’s financial viability by stripping away millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for trash burning.


Wikimedia Commons

Last week, Congressional Democrats unveiled a resolution that articulated a vision for shifting the American economy to a clean energy future. The so-called “Green New Deal” would encourage alternatives to fossil fuels with the goal of creating jobs in wind, solar, and mass transportation.

President Trump’s reaction to the “Green New Deal” was to mock the idea at a political rally.

“It would shut down American energy, which I don’t think the people in Texas will be happy with,” Trump told a crowd in El Paso. “It would shut down a little thing called air travel. They want to take away your car, reduce the value of your home, and put millions of Americans out of work.”

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats defended the move away from coal and oil as a lofty goal – similar to President Kennedy’s proposal of putting a man on the Moon.

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.