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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For the last 15 years, Professor Wolfgang Vogelbein of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has been working to discover the causes of mycobacteriosis, a chronic wasting disease that infects a majority of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay.  He believes the disease could be linked to pollution and overfishing -- but now his federal funding is about to run out, before he can finally solve the puzzle.

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Just minutes before midnight on the last day of the Maryland General Assembly session, lawmakers approved a landmark law that will require cities and counties to create fees to pay for stormwater pollution control projects. Although ridiculed by critics as a "tax on rain," advocates argue the stormwater fees will put thousands of people to work building stormwater filters (like the one shown above in Montgomery County) and allow local governments to tackle the only source of pollution still growing in the Chesapeake Bay.

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Psychologist Jean Twenge's research into opinion polls conducted of college freshmen since the 1960's concludes that people in their teens and 20's today -- which she calls "Generation Me" -- care less about environmental issues and political affairs than the Baby Boomers or Generation X'ers at the same age. Some college students today strongly deny they don't care much about green issues, although they say economic stress in recent years has made them more focused on fighting for jobs than almost anything else.

 

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The University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic has been threatened with budget cuts and other legislative actions because it joined with activists in suing an Eastern Shore poultry farm and Perdue for allegedly allowing a pile of waste (shown above) to pollute a Chesapeake Bay tributary. Although the outcome of the Hudson Farm lawsuit is uncertain, one thing that is clear is that environmental law clinics across the country often have been subjected to political attacks from legislators and governors when they challenge powerful economic interests, a legal scholar has concluded.

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The migration of osprey mark the seasons in the Chesapeake Bay, with their return in March from South America a sign of spring. But an increasing number of these "fish hawks" appear to be spending the winter in the bay, and returning earlier -- perhaps the result of a warming climate.  (Photo of osprey by James A. Galletto, Nature and Wildlife Photographers of Long Island/NOAA )

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Although Pennsylvania farms contribute a significant amount of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, half of the 40,000 farms in the state's part of the Bay watershed do not have pollution control plans required by law to reduce runoff of manure and soil into streams. One farmer who is doing an exemplary job of following the state's clean streams requirements is Leroy Walker, above, who recently built new manure management pits, a shed, and barn to reduce runoff pollution.

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Virginia blueberry farmer Mike Drewry's life changed when a power company proposed to build a 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant near his family's 400 acres. He filed a lawsuit to stop the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative's proposed plant south of historic Jamestown, and found himself in the middle of a bitter fight for clean air and water.

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For the first time in more than a decade, Pennsylvania this spring will close most of the Susquehanna River to fishing for smallmouth bass, whose numbers have been declining because of a mysterious disease.  The closure will be hard on fishing guides like Juan Veruete (left) and Jeff Little (right), whose lives and livelihoods are caught up in the river.

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Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley started a political fight by proposing legislation that would reduce suburban sprawl by limiting large developments on septic systems in some rural areas.  Opponents of the bill claim it is part of O'Malley's "War on Rural Maryland," meant to strip power from local governments. But supporters say the real "War on Rural Maryland" is developers gobbling up farms for subdivisions.

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Imagine if, everytime you flushed the toilet, it generated electricity.  The ultimate in renewable energy systems is under construction at the largest sewage treatment plant in the Chesapeake Bay region, Blue Plains in Washington, D.C., where human waste will be pressurized and heated in reactors, creating methane that will be burned to run a generator. 


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com