I'll be honored today to accept a national planning award on behalf of Gov.Martin O'Malleyat the national conference of the American Planning Association, the largest professional planning organization in the country, representing 40,000 members.
The APA selected Governor O'Malley for its 2012 National Planning Leadership Award for his advocacy of green policy and smart-growth planning. He's the first governor to win a national award from the distinguished group in at least eight years since Governor Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware in 2004 and Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey in 2000.
It's especially noteworthy that Governor O'Malley and by extension, Maryland, are being recognized for progress in environmental planning in an era when those objectives have dimmed in too many places. States like Florida and New Jersey that were, like Maryland, forerunners in focusing on smart growth and reducing greenhouse gases, have retrenched. Tea party protests against sustainability and conservation, of all things, have dismantled progress on smart growth initiatives across the country.
A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Maryland among a relative handful of states doing the most to prepare for climate change. We're in the process of implementing PlanMaryland, the first state plan for sustainable growth. Maryland also just emerged from one of the most significant General Assembly sessions in the past 20 or 30 years in terms of environmental legislation. The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, better known as the septic bill, will significantly slow large-lot residential development on septic systems — a major reason why the state's rate of consuming farm and forest land grew at triple the rate of population during the past generation. Nitrogen runoff from septic systems is also the last unaddressed source of pollutants harming our waters. The doubling of the "flush fee" and a storm-water impact fee, also approved this session, provide greater accountability for environmental impact.
The fact is we all pay the price if our leaders fail to take seriously long-term impacts on water quality and land use. We've spent more than $33 million during the past four years to retrofit more than 3,000 old septic systems — an investment completely negated by all the new septic system installations that have been added during that time. And it will cost state and local government about $1 billion more a year for new roads and schools if we grow the way we have versus a more balanced approach with greater focus on transit and walkability.
It's not surprising that few governors tackle these issues: Progress is hard to achieve and positive results take years, even decades, to appreciate. It has become even harder to amass support for these actions during anxious fiscal times, even though the long-term health of Maryland's economy and the health of Chesapeake Bay and agribusiness go hand in hand.
The last Maryland planning initiative to win national recognition from the APA was a landmark award two years ago for Baltimore County's "Plan for the Valleys." Designed by the noted landscape architect Ian McHarg a half-century ago, it protected the northern tier of rolling farmland throughout Baltimore County and the quality of the reservoir that provides water to much of the surrounding region. One can only imagine what would have befallen that area otherwise. The plan and the foresight behind it are considered an international model. It's the same kind of discipline and concern for future generations for which the APA is recognizing Governor O'Malley and Maryland today.
Richard Eberhart Hall, Baltimore
The writer is Maryland secretary of planning.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times