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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The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines blanketed the Earth with a haze of sulfur dioxide that temporarily cooled global temperatures by one degree Fahrenheit. Some scientists now see the intentional injection of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere as a potentially cheap and easy way to counteract global warming. Others warn, however, of potentially deadly unintended consequences.

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Many people know that forests are better at absorbing water pollution and carbon dioxide than corn fields, housing subdivisions or almost anything else.  But not all forests are created equal.  Smithsonian ecologist John Parker is trying to discover if diverse forests are better than monoculture forests at fostering networks of underground, thread-like mycorrhizal fungi that eat nitrogen pollution.

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Climate change and rising sea levels have combined with naturally subsiding land around the Chesapeake Bay to wash away dozens of islands. But Tangier Island Mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge, a waterman, describes how his historic community is fighting to slow erosion with a new jetty to protect the harbor and an experimental system of buoys to reduce the impact of waves.

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Wetlands are supposed to be protected because of their value as pollution filters and habitat for fish and birds. But federal and state agencies routinely approve permits for developers to destroy wetlands under the condition that they pay for the construction of artificial wetlands as replacements. These replacements, however, are not as productive biologically as real wetlands.  (Originally aired 2/8/12.)

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A growing number of free-market advocates, environmentalists, and others are asking Congress to repeal federal mandates for the mixing of corn-based ethanol into gasoline.  The ethanol mandates help to make the U.S. more independent from hostile nations that produce petroleum. But critics say federal ethanol production quotas also lead to more water pollution, higher prices for consumers, and record profits for the chemical fertilizer industry, whose products are needed to fertilize all the additional corn that is going into gas tanks.

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More than 150 restaurants in the Chesapeake region are now recycling oyster shells by donating them for projects that return shells to the Bay to serve as the foundation upon which baby oysters are planted. A Maryland lawmaker wants more restaurants and seafood consumers to participate, and has proposed legislation that would give tax credits to encourage shell recycling. Bryan Gomes, left, of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, picks up shells from Michael Stavlas, co-owner of the Hellas restaurant in Millersville, Maryland.

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President Obama pledged to take action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution during his recent State of the Union address, and now is being pressured by protesters to deny approval for a tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. Meanwhile, in Maryland, Governor O'Malley is again arguing for state legislation to help subsidize the construction of what could be America's first offshore wind farm.

 

 

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Jeff Kelble, a professional fishing guide on the Shenandoah River in Virginia, was forced to abruptly change careers eight years ago when nearly all the smallmouth bass in his river died. So he re-invented himself as a full-time advocate for the Chesapeake Bay tributary, filed legal actions that helped reduce pollution, and enjoyed watching the bass populations come roaring back.

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A Massachusetts company has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to market the world's first genetically engineered food animal, the AquaAdvantage Salmon, which would combine the DNA of three different species of fish. It would grow twice as fast as natural salmon. But some critics are fighting to stop "the frankenfish" (shown in rear, next to an Atlantic salmon.)

 

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Two of Maryland's fastest growing areas--Frederick and Cecil counties--are refusing to follow a 2012 state law designed to prevent suburban sprawl by limiting large new subdivisions to areas served by sewer systems, according to the Maryland Department of Planning. The counties argue the state should not interfere with local land-use authority. Frederick County activists Pam Abramson (left) and Amy Reyes (right) stand beside a sign marking a 1,100-home subdivision planned for the middle of farm fields.


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com