The Washington Report from Baltimore: Vol. 2, #3

Dear Friend,

I hope that you had a wonderful Fourth of July holiday and that you and your family remained safe amidst the June 29th storm and its aftermath. In this update, as always, I will be discussing my recent activities; however, I am also including a section on the recent Derecho storm as well as some information and resources related to emergency preparedness.

Friday Night Lights

Although the June 29th storm lasted less than an hour, its impact continues to be felt nearly two weeks later. According to data released by Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) yesterday, approximately 748,000 Marylanders experienced power outages, placing approximately 1.3 million phone calls to Maryland utilities companies. During the week that it took to restore power across the state on Sunday, June 8th, approximately 8,900 downed wires were reported, including several in the 43rd District. Thirteen days since the storm, I continue to receive emails from constituents about fallen trees and other debris that have damaged their property. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the storm’s aftermath, please email my office at mary.washington@house.state.md.us.

For those of you who suffered or were inconvenienced by the June 29th storm, I hope that you and your family are now recovered and comfortable.

The weeklong power restoration effort has caused some controversy and much debate about Maryland’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities. While workers remained on the ground from Saturday morning until the following Sunday afternoon, utilities companies were unable to locate all of the power outages and respond accordingly. Tragically, the death toll in Maryland rose to 19; many victims were elderly and disabled. On Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and several other county executives sent a letter to Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC) in support of improving utilities companies’ accountability and ability to respond to such extreme weather events. In August, the PSC will be holding several public hearings to discuss the power outages. I will be posting the dates, times and locations of these events on my website and Facebook once that information is released.

As Maryland’s weather continues to shirt due to climate change, the possibility of future extreme weather events is increasing. In the not-so-distant future, the June 29th storm may not be so “extreme.” While it is essential that we develop and implement sustainability measures to slow the effects of climate change, it is also important that we have the capability to respond efficiently to these weather events. Two days ago, Governor Martin O’Malley spoke in support of burying more of Maryland’s power lines, particularly in vulnerable communities. BGE estimates that burying power lines costs approximately $1 million per mile and an additional $400 per customer; however, it is necessary that we give serious consideration to any measures that will protect Maryland’s electric grid and its residents.

Surviving the Storm

While I sincerely hope that Maryland experiences no more extreme weather in the near future, it is important to be prepared in that event. I have created this emergency readiness kit, which offers information and resources to keep you prepared for extreme weather, including severe storms and excessive heat.

Comings and Goings

Three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present the keynote speech at the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Annual Conference on Higher Education. My remarks focused primarily on the importance of academic freedom in institutions of higher education. You are likely familiar with the ongoing controversy surrounding the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Clinic. In 2010, the clinic filed suit on behalf of an environmental advocacy group, the Waterkeeper Alliance, against the Hudson Farm, located on the Eastern Shore, and Perdue Farms, who contract the Hudson’s chicken growing activities. According to the plaintiff, the Hudson Farm and, by extension, Perdue Farms were in violation of the Clean Water Act because waste from the farm was polluting a nearby waterway.

In response to the suit, Perdue Farms denied any truth to its allegations and attempted to gain support from the highest levels of Maryland government to criticize the law clinic’s support of the case. During the 2012 session, one of my colleagues representing a district on Maryland’s Eastern Shore even introduced a bill that would have required the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic to reimburse the Hudson Farm’s legal expenses for up to half a million dollars. Because the bill dealt with public higher education funding, it was referred to my committee, House Appropriations. To me, such legislation posed a direct threat to academic freedom and to the “free search for truth” that is so essential to education. I take this position strongly and was very pleased that the AAUP allowed me to talk about an issue that is so personally relevant.

In addition to the AAUP conference, I also had a fantastic time with my friends and colleagues attending both D.C. and Maryland’s Pride festivities. For the past two years, I have had the opportunity to march in Baltimore’s Pride Parade as a member of the LGBT caucus of the Maryland General Assembly. The passage of civil marriage in Maryland during the 2012 session and our fight against the upcoming referendum in November’s election made this a particularly important event and I was glad to see how many people braved the heat and humidity to walk in support of fairness and equality for all.

Finally, I am very pleased to announce that I received a 100% on the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard for the second year in a row. You can take a look at the scorecard here.

As always, thank you for your interest in the legislative process and please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns or comments.

In partnership,

Delegate Mary L. Washington