The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton

The Environment in Focus is a weekly perspective on the issues and people changing Maryland's natural world.  There's a story behind every bend of the Chesapeake Bay's 11,684 miles of shoreline, in every abandoned coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains, in every exotic beetle menacing our forests and in every loophole snuck into pollution control laws in Annapolis. Tom Pelton gives you a tour of this landscape every Wednesday morning at 9:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.  He describes the people behind the news and discusses the broader government policies and trends shaping our ecology -- our land, our air and our Bay.

Tom Pelton is senior writer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he won national awards for his environmental reporting.  He's hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007.

The Environment in Focus is sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, which conserves the lands and waters on which all life depends. In Maryland, our work spans from the Chesapeake Bay to our western forests, protecting clean water and air, preserving recreational opportunities and saving our natural legacy for future generations.  Learn more at nature.org/Maryland.

Program Days: 
Wednesday
Short Program: 
Only Archive

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Drilling rig

A hotly debated study by Cornell University Professor Robert Howarth concludes that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is as bad as coal mining--and perhaps worse--from a global warming perspective. Howarth says vast amounts of methane--a potent greenhouse gas--escapes during gas drilling and transportation, and this means that natural gas is not a clean, green bridge fuel to a low-carbon future. The industry strongly disagrees.

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American eel. Photo credit: NOAA.

The American eel, or Anguilla rostrada, is one of the strangest and most contrarian fishes in the world, with a migration pattern opposite that of most species.  But its populations are declining, in part because of overfishing for seafood markets in Europe and Asia, and because a growing number of their streams are blocked by dams and development.

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Crows.  Credit: iStockphoto.com

When the West Nile Virus spread from Africa to New York 12 years ago, crows became infected with the mosquito-borne disease and started dying by the millions across America. Many people blamed these black carrion eaters for spreading the flu-like illness to about 300,000 Americans. But now researchers say the crows were innocent victims, and West Nile Virus was spread by the more cheerful-looking American Robin and other birds.

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Fisheries scientist Bill Goldsborough (right) catching striped bass with host Tom Pelton (left).

Fisheries scientist Bill Goldsborough (right) catching striped bass with host Tom Pelton (left).

Striped bass are often described as the Chesapeake Bay's greatest success story, with populations plummeting in the early 1980s and then rebounding because of a moratorium on fishing them from 1985 to 1989.  More recently, however, numbers of the iconic sport fish have been declining again, in part because their main food—a smaller fish called menhaden—is being overfished by industrial fleets out of Virginia.

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The Cape Washington
The Cape Washington

One of the ways that invasive species move around the globe is in the ballast water of ships. Proposed U.S. Coast Guard regulations will require most large ocean-going ships to install filters like one aboard the Cape Washington in Baltimore, that catch, zap, poison, suffocate or otherwise eradicate invasive species in ship ballast water.

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Photo: Neil Ever Osborne, International League of Conservation Photographers.

Hellbenders, rare and elusive salamanders as long as a man's arm, are disappearing across Appalachia because of acidic water pollution from coal mines. The nocturnal bottom-feeders survive in only two waterways in Western Maryland, including the Casselman River. But right next to the river, the largest deep mine in Maryland is scheduled to open next month and release 144,000 gallons of water a day into the Casselman.

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Photo by Will Kirk/JHU Homewood Photography homewoodphoto.jhu.edu

Well-known Baltimore cartoonist and illustrator Tom Chalkley lives a double-life as a musician and songwriter, and he's written a stirring anthem for conservationists called "A Map of the World."  We invited him into the WYPR studios to sing the song, backed by Baltimore folk-and-blues legend Bob Friedman, the incomparable Art "Bellows" Cohen on accordion, and host Tom Pelton on guitar.

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A 40-year-old outdoor education center run by the Prince George's County, Maryland, public schools may close its doors for the last time in June because of a budget crisis.  Because of the economic downturn, federal, state and county governments are looking to cut back funds for environmental education.

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Enron Oil and Gas drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Moshannon State Forest.

Conflicts between companies that lease state forests and parks for natural gas drilling and people who use these public lands for recreation are on the rise across the Chesapeake Bay region. Why? Because of a gold rush of gas drilling in a rock formation called the Marcellus shale that lies under Pennsylvania, Western Maryland, New York, and West Virginia. The issue is most pronounced in Pennsylvania, but could boil over into the other states soon. From 2007 to 2010, Pennsylvania leased out 130,000 acres of its state forests to drilling companies to raise over a half billion dollars and help balance its budget during the economic downturn. More than 12,000 natural gas wells will be drilled in Pennsylvania's state forests over the next decade.

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Natural Gas Drilling in Western Maryland?


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com