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July 20, 2013

Local lawmakers: Environmental group’s scorecard skewed

Votes scored include Marcellus Shale production via fracking, wind energy creation

CUMBERLAND — A major environmental group has released a scorecard for legislators based on their votes in the 2013 General Assembly session. Local legislators said they believe the scorecard is skewed against rural legislators trying to protect jobs and the rural economy in Western Maryland.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters released its scorecard July 15.

“It’s easy for an elected official to say they are pro-environment, but when it comes to casting a vote they may not follow through,” said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, a spokeswoman for the league. “The league chooses which votes to score at the conclusion of each session, although they make clear their legislative priorities during the session.”

For the 2013 session, the group looked at four to five votes in both the Senate and House of Delegates and some committee votes.

Some votes are “the right thing to do for the environment, but not politically popular,” Brock-Cancellieri said. “This year more than most, they are not surprised by what we scored,” she said.

Among the votes scored were those to put a moratorium on Marcellus Shale production via fracking, creating a work group to evaluate pesticide reporting and phasing out facilities that use black liquor in paper production, along with offshore wind energy production.

Sen. George Edwards received a 17 percent score, with a 30 percent lifetime score; Delegate Wendell Beitzel received a 50 percent score for the 2013 session, and a 42 percent lifetime score; Delegate Kevin Kelly received a 50 percent 2013 score and a 39 percent lifetime score and Delegate LeRoy Myers Jr. received a 50 percent 2013 score and a 24 percent lifetime score.

Kelly said he and the league are not on the same page, period.

“Depending on what the organization is, I usually don’t pay much attention to scorecards,” Kelly said. “These are the people who want to see the end of the Luke paper mill and the end of coal production.”

“They have too much of a radical agenda for me,” Kelly said.

“I don’t base my votes on whether I’m going to get a favorable or unfavorable rating,” said Beitzel. Beitzel, a sportsman, said he believes in preserving farm and rural land, so much so that both of his farms are protected through the state’s farmland preservation program.

“I have a track record of supporting business and free enterprise.”

Beitzel has a background in environmental science as well. He said that the league’s views are often detrimental to farming, coal and natural gas production.

“Most farmers aren’t out there throwing money away,” Beitzel said, meaning that farmer’s don’t want to spend money on excess fertilizers and pesticides.

“Obviously, I’m there to represent my constituents,” he said. “I absolutely consider myself a conservationist. We need jobs and a way to make a living (in Western Maryland),” Beitzel said.

Edwards doesn’t like the way the league picks and chooses how to decide which votes count toward negative and positive scores. He takes issue with amendments being used to score a legislator, even if they may have voted differently on the complete bill.

“There are all kinds of scorecards out there ... this one reflects the thinking of those from metropolitan areas,” Edwards said, noting that rural legislators often receive low scores from the league.

Edwards said support for the league’s issues has declined in both the Senate and House over the past year.

Local legislators need to protect farming and other activities “very important to our economy,” and that often result in low scores from environmental groups, Edwards said.

Edwards’ committee vote against legislation to help fund mass transit cost him points on the scorecard. He said that’s an example of the scorecard being skewed against rural legislators. “I supported another approach to funding mass transit,” he said.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters website can be found at: http://www.mdlcv.org/.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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