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Volume 14, Issue 5 ~ February 2 - February 8, 2006

There Ought to be a Law …
Maryland League of Conservation Voters’
Susan Brown

interviewed by Carrie Steele

With pollution in the air, League of Conservation Voters pushes for a state Healthy Air Act to clean up all four Ps.

Susan Brown, the first and just retired executive director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters, explains why there ought to be a state law to clean up the Big Four toxic pollutants at all Maryland’s power plants.

Bay Weekly What is your number one legislative priority for this session?

Susan Brown I think that the most important thing is the Healthy Air Act because we just have not been focusing on the air pollution issues. We’re losing so much ground at the national level with rollbacks to the Clean Air Act. Maryland has to step up so that we can be a model for the rest of the states and do something for our poor air quality.

Bay Weekly What kind of difference do you think the Healthy Air Act will make for citizens?

Susan Brown It’s [totally clean, fresh air] not going to happen overnight, but we have seven power plants in the state that are operating without modern pollution controls. If you put these controls on, and this technology does what it’s supposed to do, then you’re going to start seeing benefits of cleaner air, hopefully fewer code red days and that type of thing.

We’ve been causing this problem for many years, so it’s going to take a little while for the solution, which is more reason to get the solution in place now.

Bay Weekly What will the Healthy Air Act cost Marylanders?

Susan Brown I think you have to look at it like, What’s the cost if you don’t do it? That’s not always what the bottom line, profit and loss statement tells you, but you have huge costs to our health care system; you have sometimes a cost in lives; you have children sick from asthma and that sort of thing; you have workers not being able to get to work because they’re sick. I think that our society doesn’t always calculate the cost in a way to look at the full picture. That it’s not just the bottom line. It’s what it’s going to cost our society if we don’t do something.

Bay Weekly Does the Healthy Air Act have a chance in Maryland?

Susan Brown I think there’s a very good chance that legislators in an election year have heard people’s concerns about the poor air quality in Maryland and are prepared to act this session.

Bay Weekly Do you think the pollution bill that Gov. Robert Ehrlich is advocating will be as strong?

Susan Brown Gov. Ehrlich’s proposal is not nearly as strong. It’s not strong enough to really clean up in Maryland. It’s not even clear what it has in it — and it only deals with two of the four main pollutants that come out of the power plants. Gov. Ehrlich has only fought to address two of them. Plus, through loopholes, only half of the power plants in the state will be covered.

His is half the solution, and Marylanders deserve the whole solution.

Bay Weekly I thought that Gov. Ehrlich’s proposal dealt with three of the four main pollutants …

Susan Brown The mercury benefit is not nearly as much as a benefit as under the Healthy Air Act. There are three problems with the governor’s proposal: First, it only addresses half of pollution; Second, it only addresses half of power plants. Third, it’s only a regulatory fix, not as strong as Maryland law. For those reasons, the General Assembly needs to pass the Healthy Air Act, which will have the power of law.

Bay Weekly Do you think the Healthy Air Act could be as significant as the Flush Tax?

Susan Brown I think that’s like comparing apples to oranges. The Flush Tax was a way to address one pollutant. You can’t just cure one part of the Bay’s problems. You have to cure all of the Bay’s problems. This air solution is long overdue.

Bay Weekly You’re leaving Maryland League of Conservation Voters to take a new position with the National Wildlife Federation. What achievements will you leave behind?

Susan Brown To me, the biggest achievement has been helping take Maryland League of Conservation Voters from a volunteer, small operation to a full-time professional [organization]. We’re there every day, 24-seven, being the political voice for the environment. We’ve got four staff, two offices, a great board of directors. We’re tripling our budget this year going into the election. So to me, just seeing the growth of what I think is the critical tool for the environment in the state — the political voice — is critical.

You can have all the facts and figures on how much it’s going to cost for us to have the Healthy Air Act, you can have all these other things, but another valuable tool in the tool box for environmentalists is to have the ability to make a difference in elections and being able to keep the good guys in office and then being able to get rid of the ones that aren’t doing their job for the environment. I’ll be taking what I’ve learned at the state level, and applying it to the federal level.

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