In the coming weeks and months we all should be asking candidates for public office at the county, state and congressional levels about their detailed positions on issues. High priority election issues include: agriculture, county growth and change with zoning and sewers, economic development, education, employment and workforce development, energy, health care and taxes. These issues most discussed may not include visible environmental themes. If they are included, all the better.
It is worthwhile to identify prevalent environmental themes because they impact many Talbot County elections. This is important, considering the County’s political, social and economic confrontation over zoning and the comprehensive plan; the confrontation between the continuing economic development strategy built on big boxes and agricultural exports and the vision of comprehensive plan since the 1990s; the reasons for the poor academic performance of the economically disadvantaged; forest stands and conservation support, and the challenges facing our coastal fishing communities.
Chesapeake Bay water quality is directly tied to agriculture, coastal communities, the county comprehensive plan with zoning and sewers, economic development, employment, forests and workforce development and taxes. We opt in as a society to use tax dollars to help manage our natural resource endowment – the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. Goods and services from the Bay are priced at less than the cost of managing this natural resource with all its goods and services. Add energy issues such as replacing fossil fuel electrical energy generation with wind and solar power to reduce water and soil pollution, and banning fracking, offshore oil drilling and gas pipeline expansion to further avoid costly pollution cleanup. Add also the need and opportunity to better our educational offerings so as to have a workforce that looks for skilled jobs related to the Bay’s goods and services where we seek more value-added products and services.
Forests are also tied to election issues, such as controlling the push to bulldoze native forest stands to enhance housing profitability and commercial sprawl. These forests help clean our air and water, create jobs in their management and by-products and call for trained specialists. We need to strengthen the Farm Bill and related legislation to support conservation. Related to the Forest Conservation Act, we should go beyond acre-for-acre forest replacement and avoid chopping down forest stands in critical areas. We need to do better than counting urban subdivision and street ornamental trees as replacement for dense forest stands. Where do the candidates stand on the GOP budget cuts and the much needed strengthening of the Forest Conservation Act?
Climate change is related to energy, agriculture, coastal communities and economic development. But it is not a question of whether a candidate is a climate change denier or not. Climate variation and normal climate abnormalities have caused considerable damage and destruction and forecast to do so in the future. As a community we should be asking for support and actions from both the private and public sector to mitigate the impacts of atmospheric and hydrological events – floods, erosion, hurricanes, drought – through our choices for electrical energy generation, agricultural development and negating urban sprawl.
Dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay are where low amounts of oxygen suffocate fish, crabs, oysters, and other aquatic animals. An excess of nutrients fuels the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight for food and habitat for waterfowl, blue crabs and juvenile fish. The result is too little aquaculture production that does not attract families, business and industry to Talbot County and the Eastern Shore. Dead zones are tied directly to runoff from agriculture, land use, zoning decisions, sewers and septic systems that pollute. Economic development proposals that demand less effective natural resource management to produce higher profit margins are not the means for sustaining Talbot County’s economic viability in the future. Ask the candidates if the sprawling land use patterns of Kent, Queen Anne, Dorchester, Wicomico and Worcester counties are what Talbot County wants as a model for growth and change?
And sprawl is a theme related to agriculture, the county comprehensive plan and all the other election issues. Promoting sprawl in the form of farmland and forest replaced by bedrooms and shopping demonstrates what is clearly unnecessary in Talbot County. Bulldoze, burn, and build exhibits a lack of concern for long-term, sustainable economic investment for stable livelihoods, equitable opportunities, living wages, diverse businesses, and most importantly, a growing number of young families who will choose to keep or set roots in Talbot County. Setting roots requires an enriching a community with a good education system, living wages, a diverse economy built around value-added products, and a landscape that distinguishes Talbot from the other Eastern Shore counties. Is Talbot County going to be an investment incubator or a pass-by stop and shop?
The upcoming elections demand clear positions from candidates. Does she/he favor a bucolic rural landscape (aka the Comprehensive Plan in its original vision) dotted with diverse, thriving towns (3) and villages (22)? A well-managed natural resource endowment that is to benefit all? An economy based on agricultural and seafood production of value-added products produced by people earning living wages, and with tourism and diverse support services for differing needs? Do they favor (as some who hold or want to continue to hold office do) a development strategy focusing on industrialized chicken production for export while creating the county’s largest nitrogen and phosphorus load to the Chesapeake Bay? Do they support big box stores for state road tourist drive-buys, and residential sprawl that creates profits up front and leave the environmental degradation and tax burden to the rest of the county?
The theme of the community and natural resource base on which we depend and for which we are all to be stewards is that all of us have a diminished quality and quantity of life when we think that each of us can do as we please. A lack of stewardship is not our burden, but that of our neighbors. What is the vision held by the candidates of our landscape?
Demand specific answers from candidates: How will you support building a diversified economy that utilizes a significant, sustainable natural resource base? How will you work to attract bright, well-educated adults (particularly the 25-34 age cohort group) to bring their families, investments and skill sets for value-added products and services from Bay waters, farms, and fields to Talbot County for a diversified work force? What will you do to continue funding of the current public sector natural resource conservation, protection, research and management programs?
The choice is ours; we want and need to know where the candidates stand.
Stephen Bender is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. He writes from Tilghman.