Local Lawmakers Get Mixed Grades On Green Scorecard

BERLIN — The Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MLCV) last month released its annual environmental report cards for state legislators and an overall decline in scores for lawmakers across the state was loosely mirrored by the Lower Shore’s representatives in Annapolis for the most part with few exceptions.

The MLCV each year issues a report card of sorts rating the environmental voting records of state senators and delegates across Maryland from the most recent General Assembly session. The annual publication reviews each legislator’s voting record on a wide variety of key environmental bills and assigns an overall percentage to each lawmaker akin to a grade-point average.

State lawmakers were graded on their votes on several key issues related to the environment and conservation this year, from the offshore wind bill to septic systems and from fracking in western Maryland to numerous bills related to stormwater management and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

For example, in the Senate, the average score was 55 percent, with Democratic senators scoring an average of 70 percent and Republicans scoring an average of just 12 percent. Similar trends played out in the House, where the average score for all Delegates was 64 percent. However House Democrats scored an average of 81 percent, while Republicans scored an average of 26 percent.

Closer to home, local lawmakers generally saw their scores decline or at least stay the same somewhat in the 2013 report card, largely because many of the issues for which a yes vote would gain them percentage points ran counter to the overall desires of their constituents. For example, one of the bills on which lawmakers were scored as Agricultural Certainty, which grants participating agricultural operations in Maryland a 10-year exemption from state and local rules protecting water quality. According to the LCV, the correct vote was no, although the legislation passed.

Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) and Delegates Norm Conway (D-38B), Mike McDermott (R-38B) and Jim Otto (R-38A) each voted for the legislation, largely because of their districts’ agricultural heritage and the importance of farming on the Lower Shore’s economy. It is important to note the MLCV report card reflects only the black and white vote on an environmental issue and does not take into account the overriding importance of an issue on a legislator’s constituency. In a fictional example, a local legislator could find him or herself in the difficult position of voting against a bill that would protect wetlands along the Route 113 dualization project if a yes vote would mean stalling the project so important to his or her constituents.

Because many of the issues considered environmental by the LCV in its annual report card had larger importance for state lawmakers in their home districts, the scores generally declined this year across the state. Most of the local legislators saw their scores decline or stay the same with one exception. Mathias’ score for 2013 was 50 percent, while his lifetime score is 73 percent. McDermott’s 2013 score was 25 percent, up slightly from his lifetime score of 23 percent.

Otto came in the lowest among the Lower Shore lawmakers with a score of 14 percent, with a lifetime score of 15 percent. Conway’s score for 2013 came in at 75 percent, up from his lifetime score of 65 percent. Thirty-eight legislators in Maryland received a perfect score of 100 percent.

The annual report card is a barometer for gauging how state lawmakers vote on environmental issues across the board, but it is important to view the results in the context of a long record conservation votes and not on the specific votes on individual issues. Nonetheless, the MLCV report card tells voters the story of critical laws the legislature passed to advance clean energy and transportation goals and also how lawmakers sidestepped many critical issues during the session.

“This year’s environmental scorecard lets Marylanders know which legislators took action to protect future generations from the ravages of climate change, the health impacts of pesticides and pollution from industrial agriculture,” said Maryland LCV Board Chairman Tony Caligiuri. “Maryland LCV’s scorecard lets citizens know which senators and delegates vote for what is politically convenient and who are the real environmental champions.”

MLCV Executive Director Karla Raettig agreed, saying, “Marylanders should thank our visionary legislators who voted for the offshore wind energy bill and the transportation funding bill to move our state’s economy into the future,” she said. “Similarly, if they are concerned about the historic impacts of extreme weather, they should hold legislators accountable who didn’t vote to take several other opportunities to curb climate change. Why should just one bold clean energy bill pass in a session? We shouldn’t have an environmental quota.”