Volume XI, Issue 9 ~ March 6-12, 2003

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Ehrlich to Enviros: Away from the Table, Kiddies

It’s startling how, less than two months into his administration, Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s relationship with the conservation crowd in Maryland has deteriorated. That’s putting it kindly.

Truthfully, there never was much of a relationship. It seemed more along the lines of campaign rhetoric on the part of Ehrlich and hope by environmental groups that Ehrlich wouldn’t pursue the extremist, anti-environment policies popular these days in a wing of the GOP.

There’s still hope that Ehrlich won’t go that route. We’re certain he learned at Princeton that Maryland is not Montana or Wyoming, wide-open lands where conservation isn’t so prized.

But apparently they didn’t teach him that Maryland is not Michigan, where he found Lynn Buhl, his undistinguished appointee to head Maryland’s Department of the Environment.

Unfortunately, there may be less hope for a constructive relationship now that Ehrlich’s spokesman, Paul Schurick, has labeled the brunt of Maryland’s environmental movement as “bomb-throwers.” This is on top of Lt. Gov. Michael Steele’s referring to them as “whiners.”

Environmentalists raised the governor’s hackles because they objected to his choice of Buhl, a mid-level bureaucrat and ex-Chrysler Corp. lawyer, for the sensitive position as state environmental chief. She was voted unfavorable by the Senate Committee on Executive Nominations this week after conservation groups pointed out her shortcomings.

Schurick proclaimed further in a rant to the Washington Post that environmental groups who opposed Buhl had lost their seats at Ehrlich’s table. Henceforth, he said, the governor neither would seek nor consider their input on matters affecting the Chesapeake Bay and environmental protection.

How are we to interpret this attack? Does a seat at Ehrlich’s table mean that in his mind, diners are to sit silent when thin gruel is ladled onto their plates?

Name-callers don’t always realize it, research has found, but they are shaping the behavior of those they are branding. For instance, kids who are called dumb often turn out dumb.

We might be dumb ourselves, but our instinct is to give Ehrlich the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he and his aides are feeling stressed in finding out that governing is not as easy as it seemed. Witness their difficulty in sealing the deal to bring slots to Maryland.

What remains to be seen is how Maryland’s environmental movement will respond.

Will they turn the other cheek? Or will they, figuratively, become the “bomb-throwers” they are being called and go to war on behalf of the threatened environment?

Will the well-funded Chesapeake Bay Foundation, accustomed not only to sitting at the table but helping set it, get down in the trenches alongside neighborhood warriors to combat pollution and stave off development?

And what about our citizenry? Will people become angry at Ehrlich’s stunning dismissal of pro-environment forces? Or is Maryland’s conservation ethic a myth?

The battle in Annapolis about gambling is a huge one. But the real war in Maryland over the next four years may well be over protecting Chesapeake Bay and the environment.



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Last updated March 6, 2003 @ 1:57am