**This blog is part of a sustainability series written by student members of the BSOS Sustainability Task Force. To find out more about the task force, click here.**
Written by: Alex Fozzard
Although voter turnout has been declining in recent elections, voter turnout among students remains strong. According to the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, 75.3% of first-year students and 81.4% of senior students voted in the 2008 presidential election. Interestingly, students at more competitive universities voted at even higher rates than the national student average. However, although student voter turnout is typically higher than that of other demographics, it does not make up for all of the young, eligible voters that choose not to vote. Only 51% of eligible voters between 18-29 voted during the 2008 election. The Maryland primary will be held on April 26, 2016. It is imperative that students turn out in high numbers to ensure the legitimacy of our democratic process and that the chosen candidate thoroughly reflects the viewpoints of our generation. The state of the environment and sustainability are increasingly important issues in our society but more often than not, people aren’t sure where political candidates stand on these issues. Each of the candidates running for office in Maryland have their own unique stance on these issues. In order to make a more informed and meaningful vote, it’s important to understand those stances as well as some of the environmental issues these candidates will be facing in office.
Donna Edwards is an environmentalist, but her methods of handling environmental issues are uncertain. Her website does not mention how she would carry out her goals however, she has a strong record of voting for environmental causes ranging from incentives for recycling to restrictions on air pollution to requiring the labeling of food containing GMOs. One of the most essential parts of being a Senator is accessibility to constituents. Her background makes her empathetic with poor households and should act as powerful motivation for her to complete tasks in the Senate.
Chris Van Hollen has demonstrated a green record through the legislation he has supported as Maryland’s 8th District representative. He has, for example, supported President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. He is a firm believer that climate change is a serious issue. Perhaps most applicably to Marylanders, he supports increased funding and support for Chesapeake Bay conservation. As a Senator, it seems Van Hollen would continue to advocate for these issues. He even has a plan to reduce emissions that cause climate change called the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act. He also believes in stronger regulations on fracking and greater incentives for renewable energy. On these issues, along with the Chesapeake Bay, however, his positions are less clear than on climate change. Nevertheless, it seems that Van Hollen is well-respected in the environmental community for his work, having been endorsed and awarded by numerous environmental organizations.
Kathy Szeliga is the current frontrunner in the Republican primary, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll (Most polls had at least 50% undecided respondents.). She has served on the Environment and Transportation Subcommittee in the Maryland House of Delegates since 2015. Most of the bills she has introduced have not been environment-related. The one green bill she has introduced thus far will permit plug-in vehicles to use high occupancy vehicles (HOV) lanes under specified circumstances. On her website, she holds it as a point of pride that the “Rain Tax” was repealed after Governor Hogan’s election in 2014.
Some of the main environmental issues these candidates will have to deal with if elected to office are the state of the Chesapeake Bay, Implementation of the Clean Power Plan, and negative impacts of pesticides used in agriculture.
The Chesapeake Bay is one of Maryland’s most important environmental features. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program the main issues facing the Bay in Maryland are Nutrient and sediment pollution,development and runoff, and population growth. Nutrient overload is one of the biggest problems with the bay, industrial farming in Maryland being one of the largest sources. These factors degrade the water quality of the bay which in turn significantly degrades each of the fisheries within the bay. Failure to protect and save the Bay threatens the its value as an economic driver.
According to the EPA, “fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions”, and account for 31 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions from our nation. In response to this statistic and the increasing concern over the effects of climate change, The Obama Administration announced the proposal of the most comprehensive carbon-emissions reduction program ever undertaken by the United States government on June 2, 2014. The Plan was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3, 2015 and published in the Federal Register on October 23, 2015. The Clean Power Plan regulates emission guidelines for “existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units”, or EGUs. However, the Plan only applies to power plants that “began construction on or before January 8, 2014.” Under the Plan, the EPA sets an emissions goal and each state will have the flexibility to choose how to meet it. Federal emissions-reduction plans will be implemented in the event that states fail to submit an adequate plan by the deadline, however, states will still have the opportunity to submit a plan and regain control over their emissions-reduction processes after federal plans are implemented if their new plan is deemed adequate. The Plan itself will result in a 32% reduction of 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2030 – the equivalent of removing 70% of all automobiles in the United States. The EPA has stated that power plants are the “largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US…[accounting for] over 33% of total greenhouse gas emissions.”The implementation of the CPP will affect roughly 1,000 fossil-fuel power plants around the country.
Maryland has suffered one of the largest bee population declines in the country, according to a 2015 survey. In 2014, the state lost 61 percent of its colonies. "Pollinator Protection Act", the bill which outlaws the sale of Neonicotinoids, passed 96-39 in Maryland State congress and also passed in the state senate. Researchers have found that these nicotine derivatives can cause bee colony collapse, as the bees become addicted, seek out the chemical and die off. Manufacturers deny the hazard level and toxicity of the chemicals. The main opponents to the bill were the pesticide industry, the Maryland Farm Bureau and the National Federation of Independent Business. Neither Van Hollen, Edwards or Szeliga are in support of these industries. Although Greenpeace has chosen Van Hollen as the choice candidate for environmental issues. Currently Maryland is the only state to have banned these pesticides, a large agricultural producing state, a monument of the state congress power for environmental issues.
With a better understanding of the issues and the candidates positions, hopefully you will be able to make a more meaningful and informed vote this April 26th.This election is important, the winner will have significant influence on how we tackle environmental issues in Maryland. Students are an important and often under represented demographic, make your voice heard and don’t forget to vote in Maryland’s April 26th primary!