Who's paying attention?

Frederick News Post
Susan Hanson
10/25/2013
Last month we got the news (The News-Post, Sept. 18) that the MIT test of the air quality in Frederick is dismal. Frederick is almost as bad as Baltimore. Some officials are blaming the coal-fired power plants in the Midwest. Frederick County already pays a fee (called an offset) because of its poor air quality levels. This is before we have started adding the stuff that will come out of the incinerator once we start burning the trash and tires at this proposed facility. Is anyone out there paying attention and saying hmm, we’re going to have to pay a lot more for all of this additional smog? And this toxic stuff cannot be blamed on our neighbors.

Air of dissatisfaction

Frederick News Post
09/8/2013
A recent Capital News Service story on air pollution raised a number of questions. Those who read deeply enough into the story also found an eye-opening bit of information about Frederick. According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study released last month, a higher percentage of Marylanders die prematurely due to long-term exposure to air pollution than residents of any other state. What is particularly galling about this situation is that, to some extent, the costly efforts Maryland has made to clean up its air are being sabotaged by some “upwind” states that haven’t made similar sacrifices. The MIT study listed Baltimore as the worst large city in the entire nation when it comes to emissions-related mortality rate. For those of us who are used to hearing all the horror stories about Los Angeles, Denver and other pollution-choked cities, this is somewhat of a shock. A bit further into the story, the news got even worse. Frederick pops up as one of several Maryland cities whose air-pollution-related death rate is nearly as high as Baltimore’s.

Shades of Green

Saving the Planet Touches Almost Every Area of Frederick County Living, and it Comes with a Price Tag
Frederick Magazine
Linda Norris-Waldt
09/16/2013
Save the Bay. Buy recycled. Reduce your carbon footprint. Conserve water. The list goes on and on. And so does the number of programs and projects that aim to improve Frederick County’s environment— and with them, the debate about where lies the responsibility: Who pays, who is inconvenienced by change, and how much habit-breaking is practical when the returns aren’t immediately evident. A myriad of regulations, public education programs and businesses have brought environmental initiatives to our doors. The new programs, like mandating rain barrels and rain gardens for new subdivisions, roll in with great fanfare like ocean waves, supported by public demand. And then they are either delayed or abridged because of cost, impact or feasibility. A constant rebalancing is always taking place. Kirby Delauter, a Frederick County commissioner whose work in construction takes him into the field where he has direct encounters with environmental regulations, has been no fan of the feasibility of government programs regulating the environment. They have “grown exponentially and for no good reason other than to expand the role of government in our lives,” he says. “Stormwater has been ruled by courts to not be a pollutant, yet we still seem to have governing bodies that can’t let go of the power and control of regulating the lives of personal property owners.” Kai Hagen, a community activist and former county commissioner known for championing environmental causes, has a differing view. “If people knew the real environmental and economic costs and benefits associated with the choices we make—as a community—I’m convinced we would be making a lot more responsible choices than we are now,” he says. Here’s how current environmental programs in Frederick County touch water, land and lives.

Wasted food

Frederick News Post
06/21/2013
Recycling has become a cornerstone of our lives here in Frederick County. The blue bins that line the streets once every two weeks in front of our homes have become a familiar sight. We’ve come a long way from the 1991 pilot program for 4,000 households that launched recycling in the county. But an article in The New York Times recently made us wonder if we couldn’t go a little bit beyond the plastic bottles, aluminum foil, paper and cardboard that make up most of what we throw in our recycling carts. The Times article reported that following a highly successful pilot program, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will roll out a plan to allow all city residents to recycle food scraps. Residents will be issued containers into which they dump their food waste, and the program, while initially voluntary, is expected to become mandatory. According to the Times, food waste and organic materials account for about a third of the city’s trash. If diverted from the three landfills to which waste is trucked at the cost of $80 a ton, the city could save $100 million a year. Initially, the program will handle 100,000 tons of food scraps that will be sent to a hired composting plant. The program is expected to be so successful, the administration will seek proposals to build its own processing plant to transform the waste into biogas, which would be burned to generate electricity, according to the Times. If you’re thinking New York is a long way from Frederick County, you’re correct. But a similar program is in place closer to home in Howard County, which is set to expand a food-waste recycling pilot program initiated more than a year ago.

Opposition threatens Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan

Washington Post
Darryl Fears
11/11/2012
The embattled Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan is being hit by opponents from both the left and right. A pair of liberal watchdog groups struck it with a lawsuit last month seeking to erase one of the plan’s key programs — nutrient trading. They support the overall cleanup plan but call nutrient trading a “pay to pollute” program that departs from the spirit of the Clean Water Act, enacted 40 years ago this fall.

Unusual weather worsened Chesapeake Bay’s health

Scientists grade Chesapeake's condition D+ in 2011
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
04/17/2012
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay's overall health to worsen last year, scientists said Tuesday, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area's Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay's most degraded tributaries.

Unusual weather worsened Chesapeake Bay's health

Scientists grade Chesapeake's condition D+ in 2011
Baltimore Sun
Tim Wheeler
04/17/2012
Heavy spring rains, a hot summer and two major storms caused the Chesapeake Bay's overall health to worsen last year, scientists said Tuesday, though there apparently was a slight improvement in the Baltimore area's Patapsco and Back rivers, long considered among the bay's most degraded tributaries.

Considering Wheelabrator

Frederick News Post
Michael Elmaleh
03/11/2009
The proposed incinerator being considered by the Frederick County Commissioners is an extremely expensive ($520 million) and complicated technology that requires a great deal of technical expertise to operate efficiently. Wheelabrator has submitted a contract to maintain the plant. It is a "cost plus" contract: There is no set cap on management fees that the county may end up paying to operate the plant. The annual service fee to the company could be in the millions. I am a certified public accountant and certified valuation analyst, and my previous experience includes reviewing "cost plus" engineering contracts for the construction of wastewater facilities funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. While these engineering services were complex, they were relatively simple compared to the services that Wheelabrator proposes to provide the county. My observation on these contracts was that the localities were overbilled by millions of dollars due to government auditors' and administrators' failure to understand and enforce the complex procurement regulations that applied.

Right vs. rush

Frederick News Post
12/11/2008
The issue that's brought "No Incinerator" signs to the front yards of numerous Frederick residences has also brought national attention to states like ours that are grappling with the pros and cons of building waste-to-energy plants. Investigating the topic in its Dec. 6-7 issue, The Wall Street Journal looked at controversies surrounding combustion-based waste treatment options by observing that "opposition has cropped up against proposals in California, Maryland and elsewhere." It seems we are not alone. Not so, for Kai Hagen. He's the only Frederick County commissioner opposed to the idea of building a WTE incinerator in Frederick, recently developing a PowerPoint presentation to elucidate his stance and outline alternatives. A Nov. 19 News-Post story said an audience of "about 100 people" gathered for the show, coming as it did on the cusp of the review of the two final incinerator-build bids which, at that time, commissioners expected to have before the board by the end of the year. Estimated expenditure: $350 million. Hagen articulated multiple criticisms of the "uncertain assumptions" being made by the pro-incinerator-leaning board. One involves population growth and per-household trash production predictions. The other hinges on questions surrounding future environmental regulations, meaning those likely to be enacted down the road.