Questionnaire: Environmental Community

Download a copy HERE
Submitted to: Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club-Maryland Chapter

Good Government

1. Do you commit to communicating with advocates before introducing and supporting bills on issues that concerns them? What mechanisms will you use to provide transparency in your office?

Yes, both advocates and consumers. On the issues related to the environment, I will convene a transition working group prior to taking office to advise me and incoming staff on best practices as well as seek input on recommended staff choices in the field. Going forward, I will maintain a permanent environmental task force that will include a cabinet level executive.

Water Quality

2. In 2012 the state legislature passed the Watershed Protection and Restoration Act. This requires jurisdictions like Baltimore City create and implement a stormwater fee and program. In 2013 Baltimore with lots of citizen and business input designed a program that requires property owners who cause the most polluted runoff to pay the highest fees. Do you support Baltimore City’s current program? If not, what is your alternative proposal?

Baltimore City’s poverty rate is 25%, an outrageous and incredible percentage. Our citizens have faced double digit water rate increases for the last 5-6 years as well as three current additional fees. Homeowners have either lost or had the threat of their home lost because of the inability to pay an exorbitant water bill. In addition, a great many of our citizens are on fixed income. The current rate and fee structure is overly burdensome on the average homeowner. The final bipartisan bill passed in the 2015 legislature provides counties flexibility in how polluted runoff remediation projects are funded in exchange for increased accountability and strict penalties for failing to meet funding requirements. Baltimore’s fee for residents is by far the highest in the state. The City has not properly audited the water department’s funding mechanism to determine the true cost of this initiative nor laid out a transparent plan. It is likely that as in every other jurisdiction, much of the additional cost of fulfilling our obligation can be funded by the larger polluters and general funds, not by average homeowners.

 

3. Under an Executive Order of the Environmental Protection Agency, Baltimore is required to treat 20% of its impervious surface area. This is difficult as most city-owned property will not allow for installation of green infrastructure like trees, rain gardens, and bioswales. Several municipalities around the country have implemented market-based solutions that allow private property owners and businesses with room on their properties to install green infrastructure projects on their property allowing them to reduce their stormwater fees and generate credits they then sell to the municipality, industrial permit holders, or developers. What policies would you support or prioritize to improve public participation and investment in stormwater systems? 

Those possible solutions as stated above as well as the statement attributed to Clean Water Action…Unlike pollution that can be controlled at a single source, stormwater management requires a comprehensive solution. It means reducing impervious surfaces and ensuring developers and property owners capture and control stormwater pollution on site. New best management practices (BMPs) help remove or keep pollutants out of the water entering our storm drain systems and slows the water so it does less damage as it flows. These new water management practices, like investing in green infrastructure such as rain gardens, can reduce and even eliminate stormwater pollution.

Neighborhood Quality of Life

4. How did you plan to promote and attract environmentally-oriented economic development, concentrating on jobs in green industries and technologies?

One great model for job training and job readiness is Civic Works. I am most familiar with this particular program because much of it happens in the neighborhoods that I currently represent. Since 2003, their program has trained unemployed or underemployed city residents in the skills needed for successful careers in brownfield remediation, residential energy efficiency and solar installation. The more than 500 graduates, predominantly African American and male, maintain an 85 percent job placement rate. This is significant given the unemployment rate for their peers is 37 percent. The city’s office of employment development will step up its cooperation with this and similar programs and use that leverage to encourage private partnerships.

 

5. The Open Space District in the Baltimore Zoning Code is to enhance the quality of life for city residents and improve its business climate. What would you do to permanently preserve and expand public and private lands as an important public asset and critical environmental infrastructure?

Recently, as chair of the City Council Recreation and Parks committee, through legislation I have established a Parks and Open Space Task Force. The task force which will include many of Baltimore’s strongest environmental advocates and community leaders will be working over the next nine months to prepare such a plan.

 

6. How will you advocate that economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities of color receive enhanced protection when additional sources of pollution are proposed?

By maintaining a policy and implementation of acting on behalf of such communities as one would expect our actions would be for the “privileged communities” I would expect the advocates to act similarly, also.

 

7.  Toxic diesel pollution has a devastating impact on public health including numerous adverse effects such as lung cancer, asthma, heart attacks, stroke, and premature death. If elected, would you support a policy that requires clean diesel technology on construction equipment used on public construction projects and other large construction projects supported with city funds? What are your ideas for protecting residents of overburdened Baltimore neighborhoods from additional suffering due to increased sources of pollution?

Yes to the support of the policy. Shut down the incinerator, take down lead burdened vacant properties, increase garden and planned open space. Work closer with the communities on ideas to increase their health and life expectancy. We must turn toward a Fair Development Future.

 

8. Crude oil trains are running from southeast Baltimore winding their way through the City. They move dangerously through our communities and businesses, with no diversion route to protect communities from disaster. How would you work to ensure Baltimore residents are protected from a derailment and explosion?

First, full disclosure of what is moving in our city should be upheld as law. Next, the city should call on its congressional delegation to lead the charge to have the federal government reduce the length of these crude oil trains (some of which can reach 100 cars), taking more of the older, less safe tank cars out of service immediately, lowering travel speeds and reducing the volatility and explosiveness of Bakken crude (a problem because of “thinners” used to dilute it).

 

9. Trees in urban areas help with stormwater management, air quality, and energy conservation while demonstrably improving property values and community pride, yet tree cover in Baltimore has declined significantly in the last several decades. If elected, what would you do to increase the number and health of trees in our communities?

Raise the current level of funding to forestry which has dropped currently to historic lows. Hopefully we can raise it by 100% in two years. I will also support financially many of the wonderful tree planting and stump removal efforts of a number private entities.

 

10. Community gardens provide fresh healthy produce for city residents that can address existing food deserts, green public space, and serve to reduce stormwater runoff. How would you encourage and protect these community assets?

As mentioned previously, we have just appointed a task force, that will help to purposely plan for community gardens and green public space, which will be designated as such permanently.

 

11. Under a consent order, the City is spending more than $1 billion to repair and replace the crumbling sewer system, but unfortunately Baltimore’s harbor is still impaired from bacteria and trash. What specific remedies would you take to help accelerate the reduction of this bacteria and trash pollution?

Close the two remaining relief valves as quickly as possible. Show the city’s good faith efforts thus far and ask the federal government to help with cost of the unfunded mandate. Work harder with business, residents and the city itself to greatly reduce the pollution and trash on the front end.

 

12. Plastics and polystyrene contribute markedly to the poor health of the Chesapeake Bay, our neighborhoods and waterways. There are also safe and inexpensive comparable types of containers as replacements. What programs would you support or propose to reduce this waste from our streets and waterways? This might include a ban on polystyrene or on plastic bags, source reduction policies decreasing the volume of frequently littered items, increased funding for litter removal imitatives like the Water Wheel, and/or city-wide recycling in restaurants, bars and businesses. How would you finance these programs and address the needs of low-income and elderly Baltimore City residents?

A nominal fee on disposable bags is a win-win solution. With estimates of plastic pollution reaching an average of 46,000 pieces per square mile of ocean world-wide, it is clear that the huge amount of plastic produced, discarded and littered is an enormous problem. Not only are disposable bags an eyesore in our streams and bay, but plastics, in particular, take many years to degrade and they release toxins in the process, harming wildlife and our food chain. The recycling industry’s capacity to process plastic bags is several orders of magnitude less than the amount of plastic produced. The only solution is to reduce the amount produced

Transportation

13. A great city needs a great transportation system, including rail, bus, bike lanes and improved pedestrian safety. What is your vision of a great transit system in Baltimore and what will you do to help make this vision a reality. How can you make Baltimore safer for pedestrians and bicyclists?

This is a discussion/conversation longer than a few sentences. I would like to follow up with an in person discussion. Thanks,

 

14. The Charm City Circulator is a convenient and free service facilitating transportation for both residents and visitors. What is your vision for the Circulator, including routes and financial viability?

The Circulator original vision was a correct one. It should remain true to the intent. The better solution for mobility for the average everyday consumer who needs to arrive at work on time, take their child to daycare or run errands is a greatly improved MTA system to all parts of Baltimore. Investing and reinvesting in equipment and routes that serve the greater majority of our citizens is a must. The city and most important the average potential wage earner cannot find significant economic growth without mobility. The Circulator works because of shorter routes and dependable on time schedules. The creation of shorter routes within the current routes can also achieve the same without removing the longer routes. Express services at appropriate times are also needed. The Circulator is limited in scope and does not address the needs of all neighborhoods, particularly, low income African American communities. The expansion is also unsustainable given that there currently is a 10-11 million dollar deficit. A band aid is being administered to a systemic issue. The Circulator is a great addition, but not the fix for what ails.

Lead Paint, Toxics, and Pesticides

15. Given the unhealthy state of Baltimore’s older housing stock in low income communities, the City continues to be beset by high rates of lead poisoning and asthma. Both of these factors have dramatic impacts on a child’s education. Lead Poisoning leads to serious reading disabilities and violent behavior and asthma is the number one reason kids miss school. What is your distinct plan to scale investments in healthy, lead-safe interventions to protect our children and create a healthier, more affordable housing stock?

Given that the CDC now says that no levels of lead are safe, particularly for children, with the expertise of our City Health Department and outside peers and advocates, we will devise a plan of ridding our city of current abandoned and too costly to replace housing stock as well as strengthening regulations to cure present rental units, along with more regular inspections and enforcement.

General

16. What other ideas do you have for making Baltimore a greener and more sustainable city? What other environmental issues should we be working on to serve your neighborhood and the city?

As noted in a previous answer, a longer discussion that includes input from the advocates is desired. Often the thoughts and concerns of the average and low income resident are not included in these conversations. Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in. It would be instructive for elected officials to have briefings by the advocates somewhat regularly.