THE WEEK THAT WAS

Sunday, February 25, 2007

News of interest to Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties that appeared in the daily Post, Feb. 18 to 24

Wednesday {vbar} 21

House Votes to Curb Auto Emissions

The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved legislation that could make Maryland the 12th state to force carmakers to slash emissions that are thought to cause global warming. Senate leaders predicted approval of a similar bill, and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has pledged to sign the legislation.

The stricter standards for cars and trucks arriving at dealerships for 2010 would put Maryland in the forefront of states seeking to slow climate change, environmentalists said. But automakers said the requirements would raise prices and reduce choices for consumers. To make way for more fuel-efficient cars, fewer sport utility and other large vehicles would be on the market, they said.

The law is designed to raise the state's average fuel efficiency for new vehicles sold in Maryland to 43 miles per gallon. The current average for light trucks and SUVs is 22.2 mpg and for cars, 27.5 mpg.

Wednesday & Friday {vbar} 21 & 23

Natural Causes Blamed for Fish Kill

Thousands of dead fish have washed up along the Potomac River near Swan Point, at the southern end of Charles County, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment said.

Spokesman Robert Ballinger said the fish, including many small white perch, were first reported Sunday afternoon. They were found along a stretch of shoreline downstream from the Route 301 bridge.

Later in the week, Charles Poukish, a environmental program manager with the Maryland Department of the Environment, said investigators had found no evidence that the fish were killed by pollution or disease. Instead, he said, the fish seem to have died of thermal shock while trapped in water colder than they could stand. "We're pretty convinced that it was the conditions, the winter conditions," Poukish said.

Thursday {vbar} 22

O'Malley Seeks to End Executions

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) urged Maryland lawmakers to repeal the state's death penalty, saying the punishment is "inherently unjust," does not serve as a deterrent to murder and saps resources that could be better spent on law enforcement. Stepping forcefully into a debate taking place in Annapolis and across the nation, O'Malley suggested that Maryland and other states will inevitably execute innocent people.

The governor testified Wednesday before two legislative committees. Pending proposals would replace Maryland's death penalty with life in prison without parole sentences.

The issue, one of the most divisive facing the General Assembly this year, drew pleas from people on both sides during separate hearings conducted by House and Senate panels. But far more people turned out to support repeal, with nearly 30 people signing up to testify in favor of the bill in the Senate.

Friday {vbar} 23

Test Scores at Odds With Rising Grades

High school seniors are performing worse overall on some national tests than they did in the previous decade, even though they are receiving significantly higher grades and taking what seem to be more rigorous courses, according to new government data.

The mismatch between stronger transcripts and weak test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the nation's report card, resonated in the Washington area and elsewhere. Some seized upon the findings as evidence of grade inflation and the dumbing-down of courses. The findings also prompted renewed calls for tough national standards and the expansion of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Saturday {vbar} 24

Holdouts Grow a Different Tobacco Plant

Since the Maryland tobacco buyout seven years ago, production of the crop has nearly ended in the state. It has declined so sharply that for the first March since 1939, there will be no tobacco auction in Hughesville. There are simply not enough people producing the plant to attract buyers.

About 100 farmers still raise tobacco in Southern Maryland. The vast majority are Amish; they did not participate in the state buyout because they do not believe in accepting government subsidies.

With the market for "Maryland tobacco" all but gone, the remaining growers have contracted with Philip Morris, the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer, to raise a different crop: burley tobacco, a plant common in Kentucky and Tennessee. This week, farmers are sending the season's last bales of burley to a buying station in New Holland, Pa. -- in the Dutch Country, the heart of the nation's Amish population. From there, the tobacco will be transported to Philip Morris's cigarette factories.

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