From Chrysler to Crab Heaven,
a New Environmental Chief Arrives
Our aim is to give Gov. Bob Ehrlich the benefit of every doubt. Our new governor has the good will of Marylanders as he begins his job. Hes promised to govern moderately, having disavowed the Gingrich-styled, baby-out-with-the-bathwater conservatism of his old allies in Congress.
Besides that, he strikes us as a good sport, judging by his willingness to plunge nearly naked into the Chesapeake Bay in the recent Polar Bear Plunge.
And heaven forbid, we wouldnt want to be counted among the whiners, the term given by Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to Marylanders who are raising questions about the governors appointments to key resource agencies.
But recent developments the march toward war in Iraq and another shuttle disaster remind us that governing is serious business.
We couldnt help but look seriously at Ehrlichs choice to head the Maryland Department of Environment, a lawyer named Lynn Buhl, who most recently was a high-ranking official in Michigans environmental agency and before that worked for Chrysler Corp.
The record shows that she was part of a largely anti-environmental administration on water, air and land issues. Ex-Gov. John Engler, her boss, angered Michigan voters when he proposed drilling for oil in Lake Michigan and allowed a bottling plant to pump from the diminishing waters of the famous Great Lake.
Toward the end of his administration, Gov. Englers job ratings were even lower than those of former President Bill Clinton. And Michigan pollsters not just environmentalists say that Englers poor ratings on environmental issues were part of the reason that the state elected a Democrat, Jennifer Granholm, as governor in November.
By a margin of 55 to 39 percent, voters responding to an exit poll survey by the non-partisan Epic/MRA polling company said they believed the Democrat would do a better job with environmental issues than the Republican candidate, Dick Posthumus.
Were hoping that Buhl turns out to be far different on environmental protection than her boss. Were also hoping during this honeymoon period between Ehrlich and Marylanders that Buhl will be won over by the richness and beauty of Chesapeake Bay. (Her parents live on the Eastern Shore, and thats a start.)
We were heartened by Ehrlichs focus on Chesapeake Bay in his State of the State speech and his vow to stanch the flow of nitrogen into the Bay by modernizing 66 sewage treatment plants.
Whether he understands this or not, what hes accomplished by identifying the Bay as one of his priorities is constant scrutiny of whether he lives up to his goals.
And Marylanders are much tougher judges when it comes to environmental matters than are people in Michigan, where issues like air-pollution control and mandatory auto-fuel standards strike fear into an economy that depends heavily on the auto industry.
But it will take more than rhetoric and sewage cleanup for Bob Ehrlich and Lynn Buhl to succeed. Among other things, it will take continued aggressive prosecution of environmental polluters. It will take an acceptance that Marylanders overwhelmingly view sprawl as a threat to the quality of their lives. And it will take an understanding that to rescue crabs and oysters may well take hard decisions that rile the governors backers.
Like paying the bills, protecting Marylands environment is serious business indeed.