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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As the Maryland General Assembly debates whether to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas, a new study adds fuel to an already explosive debate over the climate impact of "fracking." Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that between 4 percent and 9 percent of natural gas can leak into the atmosphere during extraction. These leaks could reduce or eliminate the fuel's advantage over coal as a "clean" fuel, from a climate perspective.

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Maryland lawmakers are debating whether to follow 10 other states in requiring deposits (five cents in most states) on all bottles and cans to encourage consumers to recycle. Research by Dan Nees (above) and colleagues at the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center found that Maryland residents buy 4 billion beverage containers every year, but only recycle 22 percent of them. That's less than the national average of 35 percent, and a fraction of the 67 percent in New York and the 97 percent in Michigan (which both have container deposit laws).

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coyote%20image_0.jpgCoyotes, which are native to the West and Midwest, over the last three decades have been moving into Maryland and the East and multiplying in suburban and even urban environments like Baltimore and Washington, DC. Genetic testing of some of the animals in the Chesapeake Bay region suggest they are mixed-breed "coywolves" -- larger coyotes that are the product of the animals breeding with their mortal enemies: wolves. (Photo of coyote from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) (Original air date 7-17-12)

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Tundra swans lift off a frozen field on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The epic journey of tundra swans from Canada and the northern U.S. states to Maryland and Virginia is one of the most beautiful things you can see and hear in the Chesapeake region's winters. But the arctic angels are visiting less and less often, because water pollution and disease are destroying their food supply of underwater grasses and shellfish.  Original broadcast date: 12-28-11.

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An apple tree grows in a city park, producing apples that are delicious and healthy but marred with ugly black blotches.  In this essay, the author suggests that most apples would look like this without pesticides, suggesting that our modern idea of beauty is achieved through chemical warfare on nature.

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Menhaden are a small, bony, oily little fish that have been called "the most important fish in the sea" because of their key role in the food chain, providing nutrition for striped bass, osprey, dolphins and many other species. Menhaden are being overfished by industrial fleets, prompting the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on Friday to mandate a 20 percent reduction in the annual catch.

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In a case that sent shock waves through the biodiesel industry, a federal jury has convicted a biodiesel manufacturer, Rodney Hailey of Baltimore County-based Clean Green Fuel, of fraud for pocketing $9 million selling 23 million gallons of biofuel that did not exist. The case raised questions about the federal alternative fuel credit trading program that Hailey manipulated. Prosecutors said Hailey used the money to buy luxury cars including the Lamborghini above, as well as diamonds and real estate.

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Biki Takashima-Uebelhoer, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health, dedicated herself to studying the causes of cancer after her childhood pet died of canine malignant lymphoma and her parents became ill.  Her study, published in the journal Environmental Research, concluded that the use of lawn pesticides is associated with a 70 percent higher risk of dogs contracting this fatal disease. Other research suggests that pesticides can raise the risk of cancer for humans, too.

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The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's DOOM lab (Dissolved Oxygen and Oyster Mortality) is examining how oysters respond to sudden drops in oxygen levels in shallow parts of the Chesapeake Bay at night. These fluctuations are partially natural, but appear to be made worse by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Oxygen depletion may make oysters more susceptible to a disease called Dermo.

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Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has revolutionized America's energy supply, with the U.S. now looking to export liquid natural gas at terminals such as the Dominion Cove Point pier in Southern Maryland, which was built to import gas from foreign countries.  But some environmentalists and manufacturers oppose exporting natural gas, because it could encourage even more "fracking" (which can cause air and water pollution) and drive up what are currently very low prices for natural gas in the U.S.

 


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com