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Why can't Maryland's greens attract blacks?

Looking around the packed Environmental Legislative Summit in downtown Annapolis this week, African Americans in the room were more scarce than oysters in the bay. Among what organizers said were 300 attendees, fewer than a dozen were black.

The conference's sole African-American presenter, Del. Clarence Davis, (D-Baltimore), explained to the crowd that "there are so many issues in minority communities that environmental issues get shoved to the rear."

African-American voters are as concerned about environmental damage as their white counterparts, he said, they're just busier dealing with more immediate concerns. This year, he said, the state's legislative black caucus was advocating for open space preservation, power plant pollution controls, and against plans to build a landfill next to a historic black church. However, Davis admitted, his colleague Sue Chapelle, a history and environmental studies professor at Morgan State University, "is more responsible for my being here than I am."

It, of course, makes sense that education and crime claim more attention in Baltimore and other urban communities than bay grass restoration and waterway access for boaters. But as Davis pointed out, coming debates over funding for more parkland and recreational areas, expanding mass transit, and controlling development will affect Marylanders from the Eastern Shore to the Anacostia watershed.

This is the year, the watchdogs say, that the Healthy Air Act, which takes aim at the four most unhealthy pollutants spewing from too many power plant smokestacks, may--with broad-based support--have a chance at passage. Polluting power plants, according to the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, contribute to the asthma that afflicts 150,000 children in the state, and a litany of other illnesses, including one of the U.S.'s highest cancer rates.

One of the worst-polluting power plants in the state is based in Baltimore. But in his speech at the summit, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley didn't advocate for reaching those whose children breathe the air nearby. Instead, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate drew laughs by dissing Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, an easy target in this crowd.

The Environmental Legislative Summit was a valuable primer on some of the toughest, most interesting environmental battles looming this year. It's hard to find people more committed, educated, and more sincere than on the green circuit. Why then doesn't this paragon of grass-roots organizing work on drawing more minorities--to its causes, to its leadership, or at least to its meetings?

Elizabeth Williamson

By Phyllis Jordan  |  January 18, 2006; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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Environmental problems almost always poor communities much more than more affluent ones.

Where do polluting industries? Not in the rich part of town.

Where do the landfills go? Not in the rich part of town.

Which schools are still full of asbestos? Not the schools in the rich part of town.

At the same time, African Americans constitute a bigger bloc of voters in Maryland than in most other states, so unlike in most other states, these problems can be solved in Maryland.

We just have to engage our African American political leaders.

Posted by: James in Hyattsville | January 18, 2006 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't Martin O'Malley's city sued twice over EPA violations or three times? And didn't Esquire quote him as saying he drives a Chevy Suburban?

Posted by: George | January 19, 2006 2:56 AM | Report abuse

One major reason few African Americans attended the environmental summit is that it was held on Martin Luther King Day and African American activists had competing events to attend. I was surprised that the enviros didn't realize this would be a major conflict for many people. It seems insensitive to schedule the event on this day.

Posted by: Graham | January 22, 2006 9:49 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: bob | March 2, 2006 9:52 AM | Report abuse

hi mr bush hows life wot did u hav for breakfast

Posted by: liam | March 2, 2006 9:56 AM | Report abuse

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