Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 11, No. 2

January 9-15, 2003

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This Week's Articles:

It’s Revolting: Choking, Maryland Sues President

It seems to be a trend: President Bush issues an environmental policy, and a hue and cry ensues. Usually, it’s environmental groups leading the chorus of boos. This time, however, high-ranking elected officials in Maryland and other states have joined the fray.

Attorney General Joseph Curran and the top lawyers of eight other states have sued the Bush administration over its decision to relax federal rules that require power plants to install modern pollution controls when they expand or modify operations. The suit, which was filed on New Year’s Eve in federal appeals court in Washington, alleges the White House has overstepped its authority and violated the congressional intent of the federal Clean Air Act. The other states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose office is leading the lawsuit, maintains the White House action “will bring more acid rain, more smog, more asthma and more respiratory disease to millions of Americans.”

Curran concurs, claiming his office “will take whatever action necessary to ensure that any changes to the Clean Air Act do not put the health of our citizens or the Chesapeake Bay at greater risk.”

Administration officials say the new rules will “offer facilities greater flexibility to improve and modernize their operations in ways that will reduce energy use and air pollution.”

Representatives of power plant owners and operators seem to agree. The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a utility lobbying group, called the new rules “a step in the right direction.”

Mark Whitenton, National Association of Manufacturers vice president for resources and environmental policy, hailed the decision as “a refreshingly flexible approach to regulation.”

Speechifying aside, there’s no denying that air pollution from large out-of-state sources such as power plants significantly affects Maryland’s environmental health. Curran’s office said EPA studies have found that 11 jurisdictions outside of state borders significantly contribute to unhealthy ozone concentrations in Maryland. As a result, approximately 90 percent of Marylanders breathe air that violates the federal ozone health standard.

The EPA also says that such facilities are responsible for more than two-thirds of the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution emitted into American skies each year. Older plants are especially culpable, releasing up to 10 times more pollution than modern ones. Not only does that pollution help create summertime ozone health alerts, it also falls into the rivers and streams that flow into Chesapeake Bay.

Bob Ferris, vice president of environmental protection and restoration at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, believes the new rules could result in higher levels of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, mercury and other harmful substances in the Bay. “What concerns me is that we’re throwing up our hands when we should be looking at older plants and encouraging new technologies to cut back,” he said.

Ferris said new rules could also increase the steep price tag for reversing much of the Bay’s degradation. Reducing nitrogen pollution at the source is calculated to cost only $1 to $2 per pound. Once it’s released, however, removing it can cost upwards of $150 per pound.

“If we take the nitrogen pollution out of the air,” he said, “we won’t have to take the more drastic measures once it gets into the environment.”

— Gary Starikof

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Plunging into the New Year’s Biggest and Chilliest Challenge In North Beach

The North Beach New Year’s Day Polar Plunge was canceled this year, but dozens of people still got wet, cold and red.

Faced with a pair of hand-lettered signs postponing the New Year’s wake-up until the following Sunday, the crowd gathering on the town beach and pier simmered disappointment. Then, a good quarter-hour before the 2pm date with chilly 40-some-degree Bay waters, North Beacher Robert Dillon stripped to shorts, shirt and high-topped Converse All-Stars. Whooping a battle cry, he flung himself into history.

Clearly, history was cold, for the first man in the drink didn’t stay any longer than it took to wet himself from head to toe. As he ripped off his shirt, you got a contact chill from the cold rivulets streaming down his tattooed arms and chest and plastering the hair to his legs to puddle in his flame-striped Chucks.

Dillon was frigid but triumphant. “I didn’t come down here for nothing,” he said, toweling down. “I got myself psyched up all morning to do this.”

“You just saw a polar bear,” said a father on the sidelines to his toddler.

As the child frowned in puzzlement, a half-dozen more plungers stripped to swimming suits, revealing what seemed like acres of white skin to ambient temperatures, that, aided by a blustery wind, about matched the chill of the Bay. In they plunged, and Dillon raced back in after them.

Another plunger, fearing she’d missed her chance, followed fast, adjusting the lower half of her high-cut bikini as her legs pumped, spraying sand.
With that, the tide turned Bayward. As 2pm approached, an undaunted hoard agreed they’d not come for nothing. Young and not so young, white and black, thin and plump — but all pumped — some 50 people gathered in a bare, ragged chorus line. So high was the giggling, nervous energy that in they surged — and many out — before the semi-official countdown reached the hour.

A few bold kids double and triple dipped.

What possesses a person to encounter the wintry Chesapeake so up-close and personal?

“For adventure,” said smiling Lisette Belanger, 52, of Laurel, in American Sign Language.

“I did it last year, and she wanted to join me,” added her friend and translator, Kathleen Berault, 47, of Chesapeake Beach.

“My mom made a deal with me,” said 10-year-old Nicholas Berault of Chesapeake Beach. “She said if I went in, I could get more Yugioh cards.” His bribe is a Japanese anime-style trading card.

Motivations of all sorts are tugging hundreds more Bayward for the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park January 25. Five hundred have already registered.

In its seventh year, the Special Olympics Polar Plunge is more orchestrated than North Beach’s spontaneous romp. The 2,000 expected plungers will bolster their courage with pledges raising up to $20,000 for the Special Olympics games. The $50-mimimum pledge earns the plunger lunch, a group photo and a sweatshirt to warm up in. Prizes get warmer as pledges get richer.

Many also paint their bodies and costume themselves unseasonably to follow Baltimore Ravens’ all-pro defensive end Michael McCrary into the frigid Bay. Plungers emerge to a hot meal served compliments of Outback Steakhouse.

“It’s all for a good cause, but that’s probably not the motivation for most people,” says fifth-year plunger Alex Knoll, Bay Weekly’s general manager. “It’s kind of kooky, kind of crazy, and it gives you some sort of bragging rights, like, ‘Yeah, I did the Polar Bear Plunge!’ Plus, coming out of the water, you really know you’re alive, which is worthwhile in the middle of winter.”

Information? 410/290-7611 x 5 •


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Nuclear Fallout: Delegate Gets Zapped

Times must be bad, when even legislators feel the pain. A month before he was sworn in for his third term in the Maryland House, Del. Anthony O’Donnell was downsized out of his full-time supervisory position at Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

The blow fell when O’Donnell might still have been writing thank-you notes to the fewer than 450 Calvert and St. Mary’s County voters who preserved his legislative career. Republican O’Donnell nosed out challenger Pat Buehler by less than four percent of the 11,600-plus votes from the two counties.

In two rounds, on November and December 6, the plant’s owner, Constellation Energy Group, thinned Calvert Cliff’s workforce of 1,111 by 126 employees, O’Donnell among them.

“It was a planned and deliberate process begun about two years ago, with leadership looking ahead to ensure we’re in the top 25 percent of nuclear power plants in America in terms of efficiency on one side and generation on other,” said Constellation spokesman Steve Unglesbee. “It was not a jobs-reduction effort but making sure the plant is the most competitive by reducing costs.”

O’Donnell, 41, was too young to benefit from Constellation’s special medical benefit package for downsized workers 50 to 54. But the former sailor in the nuclear Navy says he’s just the right age to begin a new career.

“I don’t look at it as a negative but as an opportunity,” said O’Donnell, who’d worked at the plant for over a decade.

Like Constellation’s other released workers, O’Donnell gets a severance package including two weeks’ pay for every year on the job.

Just what his long-range plans might be, O’Donnell won’t yet say. But his part-time job as a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly, begun Jan. 8, promises to keep him busy for the next 90 days.

As well as pitching in on the Assembly’s toughest job, balancing a deficit budget, he plans to propose reforms in juvenile justice and setting mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed with a gun. He’s also looking at biological nutrient controls to help restore oysters to the Chesapeake Bay, a subject you’ll read more about in this week’s feature story.

In the Assembly, he says his own experience with joblessness will help him be sensitive to people’s needs in times of tight dollars.

“It gives me insight into average working folks, because that’s what I am,” said O’Donnell.

— Sandra Martin and Sara Kajs

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Way Downstream …

In Annapolis, Crown Blue Line, a company that rents luxury barges in France and self-skippering boats to well-heeled vacationers around the world, plans to begin operations in Chesapeake Bay in May. The company will rent 34-foot catamarans out of Annapolis — and later this year start similar rentals in Florida …

In Atlanta, headquarters of Home Depot, the home-improvement king declared last week that it will buy its wood only from suppliers that practice environmentally friendly logging. The announcement expands the company’s policy of refusing to purchase lumber harvested from endangered forests …

Our Creature Feature comes from Wales, where the brutes from the mighty Welsh Rugby Union have been whipped by an unlikely opponent — the dormouse.

Yes, score one for the furry tree-dwelling, Old World mammals, who are so fiercely protected in Britain that the local government in Bridgend, South Wales, denied the rugby union’s request to build a rugby academy because dormice populated the site. Complained one crestfallen rugby tough: “We don’t seem to be able to win anything these days, and now a tiny dormouse has beaten us.”

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Copyright 2003
Bay Weekly