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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A new study concludes that populations of frogs and other amphibians are declining across the U.S. at a rate of almost 4 percent a year, which is faster than previous estimates. One of the authors, David Miller, an ecologist at Penn State University, said the global spread of two mysterious pathogens--the ranavirus and chytrid fungus--are likely partly to blame for the deaths.

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Many stormwater pollution control systems fail because local governments do not have inspection staff to make sure property owners keep the filters free of debris, trash, and weeds. Richard Klein, President of Community and Environmental Defense Services, stands beside a pollution control device called a "rain garden" in Anne Arundel County that no longer works because it was buried in mulch.

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Credit: Virginia Institute of Marine Science

The number of blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay fell by more than half this year, compared to last year. Some scientists suggest a huge spike in populations of fish called red drum--perhaps driven by unusual weather conditions--meant more predators for baby crabs.

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In an effort to revive depleted Chesapeake Bay oysters, federal and state agencies are working together to plant about 400 million juvenile oysters in a new 4,500-acre sanctuary. Stephanie Westby, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows oysters growing in Harris Creek, a tributary to the Choptank River on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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Students at more than 300 colleges and universities across the U.S. are campaigning to urge school administrators to divest from fossil fuel companies that contribute to global warming.  At Johns Hopkins, students including Katherine Jochim and Jon Smeton recently met with the university's vice president of finance to urge the school to sell all coal, oil, and gas-related stocks in the university's $2.7 billion endowment.

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Pollution from rainwater flushing over streets, parking lots, and suburban lawns is growing in the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland lawmakers last year required the state's largest municipalities to create stormwater pollution control fees. But some local officials are rebelling. (Photo from Chesapeake Bay Program.)

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Smallmouth bass are one of the most popular freshwater sport fish, worth about $150 million a year to Maryland's economy alone in sales of everything from boats to fishing rods. But die-offs and disease have hit smallmouth in five Chesapeake Bay tributaries in recent years. Scientists theorize that a "perfect storm" of pollutants, parasites, and rising temperatures may be to blame. Photo of bass with skin discoloration from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

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Bamboo is often cut down and ripped out of parks, because it is an invasive species that crowds out native plants. But a Baltimore-based company called Bambeco and others transform what some consider a nuisance weed into an amazing array of products, from picture frames to flooring and towels.

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The Maryland General Assembly's 2013 session concluded last week with big news: approval of a bill that will help subsidize the construction of what could be America's first offshore wind farm, east of Ocean City. Lawmakers also voted down bills that would have delayed stormwater pollution control fees, encouraged recycling, and outlawed hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

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Utility companies across the country are replacing old-fashioned electricity meters in homes with new digital "smart meters." BGE and other utilities say the new meters save money and can help conserve energy. But protesters including Jonathan Libber (a former EPA attorney, above) complain about possible health risks from non-ionizing microwave radiation (which also comes from cell phones, microwaves, and televisions).


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com