Governor's 'Green' Tilt Wins Environmental Fans, but Others See Red
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 7, 1998; Page B01
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who built his political career on balancing ecological and business agendas, has tilted increasingly this election year toward slowing development, curbing pollution and taking other pro-environment positions.
Reversing earlier stances, Glendening (D) recently dropped his long-standing support for building a major highway north of the Capital Beltway and has threatened to halt a proposed waterfront development in Southern Maryland. These moves come within a year of his launching a "Smart Growth" policy to reduce suburban sprawl and a controversial campaign to combat the fish-killing microbe Pfiesteria piscicida.
As a result, environmental groups that once viewed him somewhat warily now consider Glendening their political champion, while some business leaders say they are frustrated with the governor.
"Governor Glendening, preserving Chapman's Forest will be a living jewel in your lasting legacy," Sierra Club regional director Joy Oakes said yesterday. As the governor basked in sunshine and praise at the Annapolis city dock, Oakes and others lauded his opposition to the proposed Chapman's Landing project, which would allow 4,600 new homes near the Potomac River in Southern Maryland.
No one mentioned that in November 1995, Glendening's administration infuriated these same conservationists by granting a crucial water-use permit to the developers he now is threatening with condemnation of their property. Similarly, environmentalists are happily embracing his newfound opposition to the Intercounty Connector highway, a long-debated road that would link Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
His reversal on the so-called ICC angered the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and many members of the business group signed a letter saying they felt "betrayed and used" by his actions. They acidly noted that Glendening faces reelection this fall, when he may need ardent support from environmental activists.
In an interview yesterday, Glendening said Marylanders are more focused on environmental issues because of events such as last year's pfiesteria outbreak. But he dismissed suggestions that his policies have significantly changed.
"I have always felt very strong about the environment," he said.
For 12 years as Prince George's County executive and three as governor, he said, he repeatedly has rejected "the false dichotomy" that suggests robust job growth is inconsistent with strong environmental safeguards. His recent stands on the ICC, Chapman's Landing and other matters are "absolutely consistent" with his long-held beliefs, he said.
Supporters also note that Glendening vetoed legislation last year that would have delayed a more rigorous automobile emissions test. At the same time, he has backed several pro-business initiatives, such as an income tax cut and enhanced "Sunny Day" grants to attract new jobs.
Several Democrats now believe the governor is devoting more time and emphasis to environmental initiatives than business priorities.
"He's always pretty much balanced the environmental and economic development interests," said state Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Charles). "Now he's tilting more green." Developers are reliable sources of campaign funds, he said, but "developers don't get you the votes."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said that most Marylanders cherish the Chesapeake Bay and that pro-environmental stands typically help Democrats.
"Polls show him that the overwhelming majority of Marylanders see things the same way as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation," Miller said.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the leading Republican contender in the governor's race, is likely to enjoy strong support from business interests, he said, giving Glendening more incentive to strengthen his environmental appeal. On environmental issues, Miller said, "there's a very sharp departure between the two."
Many observers link Glendening's renewed environmental fervor to last year's pfiesteria episode. The governor took something of a gamble, closing three rivers on the Eastern Shore and becoming the first prominent elected official to blame the microbe for human illnesses in natural settings. He hosted a multi-state conference and received highly favorable news coverage in Maryland and beyond.
Since then, the governor has appeared increasingly willing to challenge business groups in the name of environmental protection. Although he initially took pains to say chicken farmers would not be singled out in the battle against pfiesteria -- whose blooms may be partly triggered by poultry waste runoff -- Glendening later adopted a tougher stance. In January, he called for unprecedented and mandatory restrictions on how much fertilizer farmers may apply to their fields.
When some complained that major poultry companies such as Perdue Farms might abandon Maryland -- and the company chairman, James A. Perdue, branded Glendening as anti-business -- the governor struck back in a distinctly anti-corporate tone.
"If someone were pouring a carcinogenic chemical into a stream in your neighborhood and the company said, 'Don't make us quit doing this or we'll leave,' no one would say, 'Okay, go ahead and pour it,' " Glendening said.
Such comments have dismayed several business groups. Maryland Chamber of Commerce President Champe C. McCulloch said of the governor: "I think he's tilting more toward the environmentalists as he nears the election. He's tilting more to the groups that are his core constituents and essential to his reelection. While he did a number of things for the business community early in his administration, he [now] has tried to shore up his roots."
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