Climate Change and Vanishing Economies

Last week, on Black Friday, the Trump Administration released a Congressionally-mandated scientific assessment of the impact of climate change. The report examined the future American economy, predicting that wildfires, droughts, and floods will impose hundreds of billions of dollars in costs by the end of the century if nothing is done.

Once Thought Nearly Extinct, Sturgeon Found Reproducing in James River

Atlantic sturgeon are dinosaur-era fish with bony plates and sandpaper hide that were once the kings of the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways along the East Coast.These giants with long snouts, whiskers and soft mouths were once so common that during their spring spawning runs up rivers, their bodies – sometimes 15 feet long and 800 pounds – would crowd streams like living logjams.Sturgeon were a mainstay in the diet of many Native Americans, who speared the fish from canoes and used every part of the animals. English colonists, however, regarded sturgeon mostly as nuisance and a trash fish.That was until the 1870's, when a vast industry developed to slaughter sturgeon for their eggs, also known as caviar. By 1900, virtually all sturgeon in North America were wiped out – the passive creatures speared by the millions as they traveled up streams, their bodies left to rot. And then the caviar industry moved on to Russia. For decades, biologists in the Chesapeake Bay region assumed Atlantic Sturgeon were virtually extinct, harmed also by pollution and dams. A few old adult sturgeon were found at the far southern end of the Bay – in the James River – but there were no young anywhere, foreboding ill for the survival of the species.But then... something miraculous happened.

Once Thought Nearly Extinct, Sturgeon Found Reproducing in James River

Baltimore Combats Spread of Zebra Mussels Through Permitting Program

Last week on this program, I narrated a feature on the joys of kayaking on the Prettyboy Reservoir in Northern Baltimore County amid the glorious colors of fall. The next day, I received a letter from an attorney at the Baltimore Department of Public Works, which owns the reservoir.The letter said that city officials had heard my show and then checked their records and found that I did not have the proper sticker for boating on the reservoir. "Failure to follow the City of Baltimore Watershed Regulations is...subject to fines up to $1,000," the letter warned.

Exploring Maryland's Natural Wonders with a Smartphone App

It was a crisp, fall Sunday afternoon, with the sun dazzlingly bright after a summer of relentless rain. I wanted to go off on an adventure to a place I'd never seen.So I did what I normally do on such occasions: I turned to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The wildlife agency has an app that you can download onto your smartphone that features an interactive online map showing the exact location of every public access boat launch site in Maryland – almost 500 of them, along with maps of hiking trails, state parks, public fishing piers, and other places you can enjoy the outdoors.I highly recommend the AccessDNR app. I've made it a personal mission to use the app to try kayak at all the public boat launch sites in the state. On this Sunday, I looked at the map – and noticed a red dot that I had not yet visited. It was at the Prettyboy Reservoir in Gunpowder Falls State Park, about 40 minutes north of my home in Baltimore.So I drove up there, and after dragging my kayak down to the water's edge, set off paddling across the glassy waters in the late afternoon sun.

Tuesday's U.S. House Elections Could Shine Spotlight on Trump's Environmental Rollbacks

There's a lot at stake in the elections on Tuesday, including which party controls the U.S. House and whether Congress will begin hearings and oversight of the Trump Administration's rollback of environmental regulations.The Republican-led U.S. House has passed 36 different anti-environmental bills and amendments the last two years, according to the National League of Conservation Voters. This includes legislation that would undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup by stripping EPA of its authority to penalize states that fail to meet pollution reduction targets.The House's majority also voted in favor of legislation that would – among other things – reduce protections for wetlands and streams; allow more methane pollution from oil and gas drilling sites; and override local bans on the use of pesticides in lawn care, such as have been adopted by Howard and Montgomery counties in Maryland.Congressman John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, voted against all these bills and is running for re-election in a district that includes parts of the Baltimore area. "The House has been on a crusade to overturn regulations that protect our environment," Sarbanes said.

Tuesday's U.S. House Elections Could Shine Spotlight on Trump's Environmental Rollbacks

Republicans in U.S. House Vote for a Ban on Bans of Pesticides

Back in 2015, Montgomery County, Maryland, became one of a growing number of local governments across the country to restrict the use of pesticides in lawn care. The weed killer RoundUp and other pesticides have been linked to health risks in humans and sharp declines in populations of Monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators around the world.George Leventhal, a Montgomery County Councilman, was the lead sponsor of the lawn pesticide ban. He remembers the arguments made by local parents."We had mothers of asthmatic children who were having asthma attacks when their neighbors were applying pesticide spray," Leventhal said. "The spray would carry in the wind, and would trigger asthma, chemical allergy, multiple chemical sensitivity — and there is no need to use these toxic chemicals on your lawn."The county's prohibition in October of that year came seven months after the World Health Organization, in March of 2015, labelled RoundUp's active ingredient, glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen.But the pesticide manufacturing industry sued the county. And a judge in August of 2017 sided with the industry, striking down a portion of the county ban that applied to private lawns – although not to public property, such as playgrounds and county parks.

Investigation Finds 75 Percent of Large Slaughterhouses Violate Water Pollution Limits

People don't always think about the environmental impact of the food they eat — and specifically, the water pollution created by the meat processing industry.More than 8 billion chickens are slaughtered every year in the U.S., along with 100 million hogs, and 30 million beef cattle. These animals are processed in more than 5,000 meat processing plants, large and small.

Investigation Finds 75 Percent of Large Slaughterhouses Violate Water Pollution Limits

18 Authors Discuss "Chesapeake Requiem" and the Sinking of Tangier Island

Chesapeake Requiem is a new book about the culturally rich and historically unique community of watermen on Tangier Island in the southern Chesapeake Bay and how sea-level rise may soon wash it all away. That would make Tangiermen some of America's first climate change refugees.The author, Earl Swift, produced a complex and beautifully written book by spending 14 months living among the watermen on the tiny, isolated crabbing town just south of the Maryland/Virginia state line. But it's not just a book about Chesapeake culture. It also raises profound and troubling questions about America: about climate change denialism from the crab shacks on Tangier Island to the White House; and what our country should do about the inundation of a growing number of waterfront communities caused by sea-level rise.Earl Swift, a former reporter for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, joined famed Chesapeake Bay author Tom Horton and myself in a panel discussion of the Chesapeake and climate change at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday.

18 Authors Discuss "Chesapeake Requiem" and the Sinking of Tangier Island

Maryland Considers Air Pollution Restrictions for Trash Incinerators

With the smokestack of Maryland's largest trash-burning incinerator in the background, dozens of protesters held a rally on Friday in south Baltimore's Carroll Park to demand either a shutdown or stronger pollution controls on the BRESCO waste-to-energy plant.The activists gave speeches and waved signs beneath a banner that read, "Burning Trash is Not Clean Energy." That's a reference to a 2011 state law that gives the 33-year-old incinerator, operated by the New Hampshire-based Wheelabrator company on contract for the city, millions of dollars in tax breaks as a source of allegedly "green" energy, like solar or wind.

Democrat Ben Jealous Calls for 100 Percent Renewable Energy in MD

Last week on this program, we examined the environmental record of Maryland's Republican Governor Larry Hogan as he runs for re-election on November 6.This week, we'll look at the environmental platform and history of his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous. Jealous has never held an elected office. But he's a former Rhodes Scholar, newspaper reporter and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.At the NAACP, Jealous started the organization's climate justice program, which emphasizes that minorities and lower income people are often hit hardest by flooding, extreme weather, air pollution, and other impacts of burning fossil fuels.As candidate for Governor, at the top of Jealous' list of environmental priorities is to have Maryland join California and Hawaii as states that plan to stop using coal and natural gas to generate electricity and switch to 100 percent solar, wind and other clean fuels.

Examining MD Gov. Hogan's Record on the Environment

With Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan running for re-election in a majority Democratic state on Nov. 6th, he's emphasizing his record on the environment as an area to claim a moderate legacy, and to differentiate himself from Republican President Trump, who is highly unpopular in the state.Hogan's environmental secretary, Ben Grumbles, highlights Governor Hogan's efforts to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, including the tons of sediment pouring over the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River."I would say, number one, would be the strong, bipartisan support for Chesapeake Bay restoration," said Grumbles, asked to list the governor's top environmental accomplishments. "And I have to fold into that not only the governor's record funding for the Chesapeake Bay restoration, from Program Open Space, to the 2010 Trust Fund, to full and robust support for the Bay Restoration Fund and the other funding programs. But it's also about being a strong supporter of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL."The Bay TMDL – or Total Maximum Daily Load – is the set of EPA pollution limits that the Obama Administration imposed for Chesapeake region states in 2010. And this is where Hogan's claims of success become as murky as the bay itself has been this summer, with the record-breaking rainfall and large amounts of runoff pollution.

"Delmarva Potholes" and Other Threatened Wetlands and Streams 09-05-18

I'm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, near Denton, standing in a forested wetlands surrounded by miles of corn and soybean fields. Here, in this little island of biodiversity, sweetgum trees and bald cypresses rise up from coffee-colored water.A gentle wind sways the branches, leading spots of light and shadow in a dance over the surface of the water, illuminating tufts of grasses and rotting logs that are home to salamanders and frogs.This place is what is called a "Delmarva Pothole" or "Delmarva Bay." They are small, isolated, fresh water wetlands that are connected only beneath the ground to nearby streams and rivers.Although few outsiders have ever heard of them, biologists say these potholes – which locals call "whale wallows" — provide invaluable ecological services for the Chesapeake Bay by filtering runoff pollution being washed by rain off of farm fields.

"Delmarva Potholes" and Other Threatened Wetlands and Streams 09-05-18

Globalization and Invasive Species Take Toll on America's Trees

A white ash tree stands beside my front porch in Baltimore — its trunk nearly as thick as I am tall, and its branches stretching at least three times the height of my three-story house, shading one side of my roof to the other.It's about 200 years old, and it started growing back when this section of the city was still farmland beside a stream, decades before the Civil War.

The Impact of Near-Record Rainfall on Chesapeake Bay Grasses

Maryland has experienced the rainiest year on record in more than a century, with the 43 inches falling through August 15 the most since 1889.So much stormwater has been flooding down the Susquehanna River into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay that the Exelon Power company opened several of the flood gates on the Conowingo Dam, unleashing a torrent of sediment and pollution that had been trapped behind the dam.

An Abandoned Fortress Reborn as a Breeding Ground for Birds

I had launched into the Patapsco River from Fort Armistead Park near the base of the Francis Scott Key Bridge south of Baltimore. Truck traffic roared overhead on Route 695. Ahead of me, the morning sun sparkled silver in a rippling path toward the old Sparrows Point steel mill. Behind my back rose the smokestacks of a pair of coal-fired power plants, a chemical factory, sewage plant, and the mounded back of the city's Quarantine Road landfill.But the sky was blue, the breeze was balmy, and out on the water I felt away from it all.

John Shields Cooks Up "The New Chesapeake Kitchen"

Tom talks with Gertrude's restaurant owner John Shields about his newest book "The New Chesapeake Kitchen," which makes the case that we should all make our eating habits more sustainable.

House Republicans Advance Bill that Would Derail Chesapeake Cleanup

This month, the U.S. Senate will be considering legislation that threatens to reverse historic progress in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.On July 19, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 213 to 202 – largely along partisan lines – to pass a budget amendment that would prohibit the federal Environmental Protection Agency from penalizing states that fail to meet pollution limits for the bay imposed by EPA in 2010.The lead sponsor was Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, an ally of the farm lobby, which went to court to contest the federal Bay pollution limits."The EPA cannot be allowed to railroad the states and micromanage the process," Goodlatte said. "With this amendment, we are simply telling the EPA the important role that states play in implementing the Clean Water Act and preventing another federal power grab."

Republicans, on Anti-Regulatory Roll, Aim at Endangered Species Act

According to the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, more than 40 percent of mammal species have experienced severe population declines over the last century, meaning that their range has shrunk more than 80 percent.Almost 200 species of vertebrates have gone extinct over the last 100 years, a rate of about two extinctions per year. That's 100 times the historic rate. Previous mass die-offs have been caused by asteroids, volcanos and other natural catastrophes. But this one has been triggered by human population growth, development, and climate change, scientists have concluded.

The Potomac Riverkeeper's Epic Journey

Dean Naujoks fires up the engine of his boat at the Bell Haven Marina in Alexandria, Virginia, and heads out to his version of an office cubicle: the wide, windy, greenish-gray currents of the Potomac River."This is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge," Naujoks says as he guides the boat on a sunny morning. "And then right over here is Jones Point Lighthouse. This is the oldest riverine lighthouse in the country."For the last three and a half years, Naujoks – a 49-year-old veteran environmental activist and son of a tool-and-die maker from Eastern Pennsylvania – has worked as the Potomac Riverkeeper, leading a nonprofit organization that advocates for cleaner water.

Former Coal Lobbyist Now Free to Shape Coal Regulations as EPA Chief

When he was on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to impose new rules to keep lobbyists out of government. "If I'm elected president, we are going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.," Trump proclaimed.But he didn't ban the hiring of lobbyists to his administration – far from it. On January 28, 2017, he signed an executive order that simply requires any lobbyists hired by his administration to refrain — for two years — from participating in discussion of any issue areas on which they lobbied for industry.This question became relevant last week when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid multiple investigations of his mismanagement and misspending. His replacement as acting EPA Administrator is Andrew Wheeler, a longtime former lobbyist for the coal and energy industries.

Study of E-Cigarettes Reveals Brain-Damaging Lead in "Vaping"

It's almost impossible to walk into a convenience store, pass a bus stop, or even to watch You Tube videos these days without being assaulted with ads for vaping or electronic cigarettes.This online ad features a cool-looking young actor on the beach, with the surf crashing behind him. "Blue e-cigs," the narrator says. "Blue lets me enjoy smoking without it affecting the people around me because it's vapor, not tobacco smoke. That means there's no ash. And best of all, no offensive odor."But is that really true – that vaping does not affect the people around you? That it's harmless, creating no indoor air pollution?"No," said Ana Maria Rule, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It is definitely not smoking, that's a good distinction to make. However, I don't know where people get this idea that (vaping) is harmless because the chemicals that are being heated up from the liquid are not harmless chemicals."

More Heavy Rainfalls Part of International Climate Trend

On Sunday evening, another rainstorm drenched the Baltimore area, turning gutters into rivers and streams into muddy torrents.A day earlier, heavy rainfall caused the worst flooding in two decades along the Rappahanock River in Virginia, inundating several homes.And on May 27, flash floods devastated historic Ellicott City, Maryland, for the second time in as many years, flipping cars and killing a National Guard sergeant.May turned out to be the third rainiest in Maryland history, with eight inches falling, more than twice the average for that month, according to National Weather Service monitoring at BWI airport. So far in June, almost 5 more inches of rain have fallen – about a third more than is normal for a June.

Three New Books Inspire Dreams of Outdoor Adventures in Maryland

After a spring of wretched downpours and cold, cloudy weather, summer has finally begun — at least unofficially — and the bullfrogs are singing its praise.I slide my kayak into the lake at Tuckahoe State Park on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's a sunny, breezy afternoon, and the lake is fringed by swaying reeds and the arrow-shaped leaves of water plants — called Tuckahoe – whose roots were an important source of food for Native Americans.

Green Accounting and the Economic Value of Nature

I was paddling down the Big Gunpowder Falls near Sparks, Maryland, when I saw a great blue heron standing on a log in the river, tall and elegant. As I drifted closer, it launched into the air and flew over my head, its six-foot wingspan and knife-like beak all the more impressive at close range.Nearby, atop the riverbank, was a house. I thought: what is the economic value of this heron to that homeowner? Would he be able to sell his house for $505,000 instead of $500,000 if a buyer saw the heron before agreeing to the price? Or maybe the location and the view of the river are all that matter in the fast-moving world of real estate transactions.