Chesapeake Bay environmentalists are steaming about a new statewide drive offering $1 for each signature gathered on petitions opposing a ban on phosphates in detergents in Maryland.
The petition purports to back cleaning up the bay, but the environmentalists believe its aim is the opposite.
The drive is being conducted by the Consumers League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN), a lobbying organization that registered Monday and immediately began circulating petitions. Its target is a state Senate bill that has won committee approval and goes to the Senate floor today.
CLEAN claims to represent homemakers, small businesses and farmers, among others. But Sen. Gerald Winegrad, sponsor of the phosphate-ban bill, which has already won Senate committee approval, said, "It's obvious that the drive is supported by the soap and detergent industry.
"They're the only ones with this kind of money and the only ones vehemently opposing the bill. For them to say they are environmentalists and homemakers is ludicrous. I think it shows the desperation and the underhanded tactics they've resorted to."
The Soap and Detergent Association's chief lobbyist, Devin Doolan, said yesterday the association "is not involved in this matter in any way."
The $1-a-name bounty paid to those who collect signatures has prompted a gold rush at the University of Maryland, where about 20 students are aiming to collect up to 10,000 signatures.
"It's just snowballed," said Bob Baldwin, a graduate student organizing the campus drive. "One guy is using it to fund a trip for his scout group."
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Director Will C. Baker said he learned of the drive when a part-time schoolteacher called the foundation because she was confused by the petition.
He said the document lists five goals, the first four of which are proenvironment: Cleaning up the bay, stiffening water treatment standards, removing phosphorus at water treatment plants and lowering phosphorus levels in the bay. Only the fifth paragraph, he said, addresses the detergent phosphate ban, and opposes it.
Baker said few who sign the petition would understand its political implications, and even those circulating it likely would be confused.
CLEAN's president is listed as Maxine Yoffe, a operator of a coin-operated laundry in Silver Spring. Yoffe said she's against a phosphate ban because nonphosphate detergent damages her equipment.
"It clogs the drains so bad," she said. "You ought to see it. It's like cement."