Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

08.09.17 Roger Berliner is no environmental hero (plus: the shame of Mike Tidwell)

August 9, 2017

On July 25, an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Roger Berliner, the environmental leader you can trust.” It was signed “Mike Tidwell, Environmental Leader,” but was sent from the Berliner campaign, not from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network – CCAN, which Tidwell directs. This was an opening salvo from County Councilman Berliner in his endeavor to become MoCo’s next executive. He has joined the 2018 race against two other current councilmembers: Marc Elrich and George Leventhal.

Writing as Berliner’s mouthpiece, Tidwell goes over the top in declaring the candidate to be “the acknowledged county environmental leader” [emphasis added]. Hmmm: acknowledged by whom?

Well, let’s specify who has not shared in the accolades. For example:

  • Those who have sought to get plastic bags out of our streams and oceans. While Berliner did support the original bag tax that took effect in 2012, it seems the chemical industry got to him a year later and he championed a (losing) effort to remove the tax from most retail establishments. He was joined by Leventhal in that noble cause.
  • Those who don’t believe pretty lawns justify use of chemicals poisonous to children and pets. Safe Grow Montgomery (which is now under threat as a result of a recent court opinion) passed 6-3 in 2015 over Roger Berliner’s opposition (credit Leventhal for being a champion on this one).
  • Those who oppose unfettered development in the county, at least in part due to concerns about environmental impacts. Berliner has consistently sided with big developers’ attempts to pave everything outside the Agricultural Reserve.

Berliner was indeed the lead sponsor of a recent bill calling for MoCo to divest from fossil fuels. On closer inspection though, how heroic was this? Well, inside sources tell me that it was Marc Elrich who originally came up with the idea. It turns out that Berliner basically jumped the queue to introduce it before Elrich could and he got only two co-sponsors: Elrich and Nancy Navarro. Leventhal, Tom Hucker, Hans Riemer and the rest opposed the bill until it was watered down to be a non-binding resolution, at which point they jumped on the bandwagon. For a change, Berliner was on the right side of an environmental issue, but it didn’t end up amounting to much.

I wrote back to Tidwell on August 3, recounting the councilman’s poor environmental record and concluding:

I agree with you that climate change is the most important issue humanity faces, but an environmentalist should care about and support environmentalism across the board. . . .Unless you can document how Berliner is better than Elrich, Leventhal, or anyone else, you have no credibility with this endorsement. (If you can document this, please respond directly — I am receptive to new information that could change my view. I plan to blog on this topic shortly, so time is of the essence for your reply.)

I got this reply that day:

Thanks for your note. I support Roger personally because he has done more on the issue of climate change than any other leader in the county over the past 10 years – in my view. Climate change is my biggest concern as a voter. Mike

That is: It doesn’t matter if Berliner is wrong about everything else. For Tidwell, climate change is all that matters and it gives license to rank Berliner above all others, including others who have at least identical records on climate change. This doesn’t fly in my book: by definition, you cannot be an environmental leader if you have a record of opposing environmental legislation.

Just how credible is Mike Tidwell, anyway? Well, he has certainly has done a lot of work on climate change and deserves respect for that. But his decision to shill for Berliner is not the only time he has gone off the rails.

In 2011, Tidwell penned an op-ed for the Washington Post, titled “A climate-change activist prepares for the worst.” Here is the choice quote:

How will we feed ourselves adequately if our breadbasket is a desert? Answer: We won’t, and there will be social unrest as a result. . . . So I even took my first-ever lesson in firearms use last December, an introduction to skeet shooting. I told myself it was in part for sport, but I did it mostly to test various types of shotguns for eventual purchase.

Here was Mike Tidwell telling us: “Arm yourselves, the end is near!” That was when I stopped writing checks to CCAN. Just as I don’t believe climate-change activism necessitates abandoning the rest of the environment, I am horrified that any progressive-change activist would join the NRA in promoting guns or engage in fear-mongering about imminent societal collapse.

Back to the county executive race. It would be one thing if you were a single-issue climate-change voter and it were Berliner vs. Nancy Floreen or Craig Rice (whose records are terrible). But the fact is that Marc Elrich has been walking and chewing gum at the same time for decades, building a record against climate change and for the environment more broadly.

 Marc Elrich is the only member of County Council with a consistent record on the environment. While most of county council has been in the pocket of developers since the early aughts; while Berliner has a negative record on pesticides and plastic bags; while Leventhal did as much as anyone to water down the fossil-fuel divestment bill and tried with Berliner to gut the bag tax; Marc Elrich has been a friend of the environment every single time.

I believe Mike Tidwell harmed his own cause when he associated it with gun-toting survivalism. He certainly isn’t helping it now by hitching his wagon to Berliner, an outright threat to the environment.

Dear voter: Don’t let Berliner and Tidwell sell you a batch of snake oil. For county executive in 2018, choose the one councilmember whom you can trust on the environment all the time: Marc Elrich.

©2018 Keith Berner


05.30.16 The selfishness of Chevy Chase

May 30, 2016

The Washington Post today had a front-page story about the 37th (or 98th or millionth?) attempt by Chevy Chase to block the Purple Line, which would provide an east-west link between Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties, including service to communities of the poor, the non-white, and immigrants. The identity of those behind this latest lawsuit didn’t appear on p. 1, where the headline was  “Purple Line’s foes add Metro safety, maintenance problems to legal argument.” But anyone who has followed this issue knew without turning to the continuation page that Purple Line Foe = Chevy Chase Resident.

Sure enough, below the fold, we learn that the main culprit this time is a so-called “environmental lawyer,” John M. Fitzgerald, who is now making safety arguments in order to (hypocritically) put more cars on the road.

Chevy Chase decided, en masse, years ago that they didn’t want the riffraff destroying their bucolic sense of entitlement. They have made up protected species, They have argued about costs. They have litigated about land residents stole from the right of way. Now they are exploiting Metro’s woes (the Purple Line won’t even be run by Metro!) to justify their foregone conclusion. Once they made up their minds to keep the world out, they used any handy excuse for litigation they could find to stop this worthy, necessary public transportation project.

Chevy Chase is overwhelmingly Democratic, just like the rest of Montgomery County. But these are false liberals – they believe in the public good only as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them.This is the partisan equivalent of the Republicans who  support progressive policies only when they or their families will directly benefit (e.g., support to increase disease research when a family member has the disease or switching sides on gay marriage after your daughter or son has come out.)

Chevy Chase is just as selfish as Wall Street. As we watch this latest attempt to block progressive policy go down in expensive flames, true progressives shouldn’t let them forget it.

©2016 Keith Berner


03.19.16 Protect environmentalism: Stop amendments to the Pollinator Protection Act

March 19, 2016

This is a guest post by Michael Tabor, a Takoma Park community activist and farmer.

On March 9, 2016 the Maryland Senate passed SB 198 (known as the Pollinator Protection Act).  The bill will keep neonicotinoids (“neonics”) off retail shelves in Maryland and allow only pesticide applicators to use them.  And that’s it. The bill will not restrict the agricultural use of neonics, nor does it restrict the sale or use of pet products containing neonics or personal care products for lice and bedbugs. Will this bill really “save the bees” or is it nothing more than a political token? It would at the very least do no harm, as long is it isn’t tampered with. And that is the present problem.

Despite the exemption for agriculture, Senator Mac Middleton, (D-28, Charles County) inserted amendment language at the last minute that raises some red flags and could make an amended bill a victory for the pesticide industry, not for bees. This amendment (most likely proposed by the Farm Bureau and pesticide industry) reads:

The Department [Maryland Department of Agriculture] shall review the state’s pesticide laws and regulations and make recommendations for any changes necessary to ensure state laws and regulations are consistent with the US Environmental Protection Agency recommendations.

Why is this important? If state laws and regulations are to “be consistent” with the EPA, it means the state and local regulations will be preempted; in other words, jurisdictions, like Takoma Park and Montgomery County, which recently passed laws to restrict cosmetic lawn pesticides (and which the Farm Bureau and pesticide industry tried to defeat, despite the exemptions for agriculture in these laws, too), are in danger of being overturned. Furthermore, any future efforts by local jurisdictions to try to exceed the very weak EPA regulations on pesticides will also be fruitless. This could be a death knell for environmentalism in Maryland.

Fortunately, there were strong voices against this amendment on the House floor, led by Transportation & Environment Chair Kumar Barve (D-17, Rockville/Gaithersburg). Thanks to his efforts and keen understanding of the threat of preemption that this amendment poses, he managed yesterday to get the House committee to pass a “clean bill,” stripped of the amendment. But the story doesn’t end here.  The bill still has to go to a joint Senate-House committee, where there’s always the possibility that the amendment might get reintroduced.

There are larger stakes than just this bill. Maryland is just one of seven remaining states whose environmental laws have not been preempted by the pesticide industry. Maine is another of those seven, and towns like South Portland, ME, have been inspired to follow our county’s lead on restricting lawn pesticides. Citizens in the other 43 states are now powerless to fight for anything that would exceed weak federal laws. The failure of the EPA to date to restrict neonics, among other pesticides, is what makes the pollinator bill a necessity in the first place. The Middleton Amendment would negate the very raison d’être of the bill.

State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20, Takoma Park/Silver Spring) has also weighed in: “I am determined to see that the pollinator legislation we pass in Annapolis will not preempt anything being done at the local level . . . I am working with local environmental advocates and Attorney General Brian Frosh . . . to make sure that state law protects what we have done locally.”

We need others like Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) and Senator Craig Zucker (D-14, Laytonsville/Brookeville) also to stand up to the pesticide industry and offer support. I urge Maryland citizens to contact their legislators by Monday morning and tell them to stop all amendments to the Pollinator Protection Act. The bees will thank you for it.

08.02.15 Against the local Tea Party (for a plastic bag ban)

August 2, 2015

Recently, my city councilman, Jarrett Smith, introduced a bill to ban plastic bag distribution by businesses in our fair little city. I hardly need to mention the environmental benefits of such a ban and the inevitable opposition by big business (the chemical industry).

What alarms me is that progressive Takoma Park is home to its own little Tea Party: “freedom-loving” libertarians who wish we were more like Alabama. This local Tea Party vigorously opposed a ban passed last year on use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes (which, with leadership from County Councilman George Leventhal [At Large] will soon become law in Montgomery County.) They’re back now to oppose plastic bans in the name of freedom.

Here is an exchange between me and one of the Tea Partiers on the Takoma Park’s main discussion listserv:

From: “James DiLuigi [TakomaPark]” <>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 12:36:37 EDT

To: “” <>

Catherine [Tunis] makes a point that has concerned me for some time now.

Takoma Park is a community of citizens who accept and care for one another without being foxed to do so by laws.

Most of us have come here by choice and relish the small town and inclusive society we have fostered.

I have become concerned regarding the legislative approach, rather than a voluntary/educational approach, that has been taken on various matters recently.

Let’s stop this management by fiat before it begins to threaten the welcoming society we have worked so hard to create.

James A. DiLuigi, AIA, CSI

Access-Ability Consultants, Inc


From: Keith Berner <>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 13:22:03 EDT

To: Takoma Park list <>

Yes, many Takoma Parkers care about each other without being forced to by law. But can Takoma Parker’s properly care for the environment without laws that restrict environmentally damaging business practices? Let’s go back to the origin of this debate: Councilmember Jarrett Smith’s progressive legislation to ban plastic bag distribution by TkPk businesses. This is hardly an encroachment on residents’ ability to care for each other.

The “nanny state” that dictates and controls all we do is a classic bogeyman of the right. But they’re not all wrong. There are certainly places we don’t want the state to tread (the bedroom, for example, or free speech). But environmental and health protections rarely cross that line. In fact, they are essential for curbing business practices that do not capture “externalities” in market-driven transactions. Your “right” not to wear a seatbelt has an external cost that I pay in the form of higher insurance premiums and health care costs. A “free” plastic bag at checkout has the external cost of polluted waterways, parks, roads, etc. Your right to pack heat threatens my right to be safe from violence.

Further, many or most areas of the country fall too far to the laissez-faire side of the line. Takoma Park and Montgomery County provide much-needed alternatives to the libertarian and pro-big-business ethos  that pervades the American body politic. That is, those of you who see our progressive oasis as too infringing on your right to pollute can move almost anywhere and enjoy more of this (in my view) destructive “freedom.” 

We don’t need Tea Party-like libertarianism in our community (though, of course, those with these views have every right to express them and to try to elect politicians who share such views). I say: two thumbs up for progressive communitarianism, where society and the planet are sometimes given precedence over individual self-interest.

—Keith Berner


By the way, Mr. Luigi most recently made waves on the listserv by calling for city legislation to be reviewed by a committee of homeowners who have been residents for more than 10 years. The GOP couldn’t come up with a better plan to disenfranchise people of color, immigrants, and those of moderate means.

@2015 Keith Berner

11.30.12 Susan Rice: global warming bad guy

November 30, 2012

Just because John McCain is evil, doesn’t ipso facto mean that any and everyone he targets is good.

(It infuriates me that McCain retains any power or audience at all after he, Mr. “Country First,” tried to put Sarah Palin a heart attack away from leading the country — an act of treason, if you ask me.)

Yeah, McCain, Lindsey Graham, et al. have been playing politics with the country’s diplomacy by going after Rice, for the HUGE CRIME of believing CIA reports that the Benghazi attack was spontaneous and saying so ONE SINGLE TIME on TV. I gotta ask: what the fuck difference does it make that first impressions about the nature of the attack were one thing and reality turned out to be a another, especially when the GOP had cut funding for diplomatic security?

I was already coming to the conclusion that, as unjustified as the GOP’s lynching was, it would be stupid of Obama to waste political capital on saving Rice, when there are one or two other things to spend that capital on. But now this: a New York Times report that Rice and family own between $300k and $600k of stock in . . . TransCanada, the firm that wants to build the global-warming and ground polluting Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

Not only is Rice yet another member of the disgusting 1% club*  (given that she has enough wealth to have that much of it invested in one company). Not only does she own a share of one giant evil-doer in the  global warming industry. But as secretary of state, it would be her job to determine whether the pipeline goes forward!

So, I say, drop Susan Rice like a hot potato and turn to John Kerry. Yeah, Kerry is another one with plutocrat wealth, but at least he doesn’t seem (yet) to be actively promoting global warming.

*Yes, I am actively engaging in class warfare. Got a problem with that?!

©2012 Keith Berner

03.21.11 Specious Arguments Against a Bag Tax

March 21, 2011

The following is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local.

Rarely have I see a piece of public argumentation with such a large “Kick Me” sign on it as Council member Nancy Floreen’s (D-At Large) Local Opinions commentary in Sunday’s Post opposing a proposed five-cent tax on plastic and paper bags in Montgomery County. Some of Floreen’s arguments (e.g., people will pack bags too full and the resulting spillage will pollute the environment) are too ludicrous to merit a response. I’ll focus on rebutting the specious and disingenuous arguments instead.

1.Floreen says that the bag tax wouldn’t resolve the county’s budget crisis and that it is merely a drop in the bucket. Of course. The bag tax is not meant to raise significant revenue but to change behavior and help the environment. But since the councilwoman mentions the budget, I can’t be the only one who wouldn’t mind seeing the additional million or so the tax is expected to generate to help keep things running.

2.She cites the Alice Ferguson Foundation as saying that the effect of D.C.’s bag tax (in place since January 2010) hasn’t been measure yet. But somehow, she neglects to consider qualitative reports of improvements in area waterways or to mention the foundation’s findings that 75 percent of city residents are using fewer bags than a year ago and that city officials report a drop in bag use from 270 million in 2009 to 55 million in 2010. It strains credulity to argue that a drop that dramatic has not resulted in less litter.

3.Furthermore, bag taxes are not just about saving the local waterways. Reducing bag consumption is about the trash my wife and I fish out of our hedge every week. It’s about the bags that collect along streets and in parks. It’s about the ship that recently had trouble anchoring off the coast of Brazil because of plastic bags covering on the ocean floor. It’s about the marine mammals that are strangling in the stuff or starving to death because it has clogged their digestive systems. Finally, bag taxes reduce our reliance on imported oil and production of greenhouse gasses. Are these things of no concern to the good councilwoman?

4.Floreen argues that people “who exercise good judgment” already reuse plastic bags to (for example) clean up after their pets. On my dog walk today, I did in indeed reuse a plastic bag: The one that The Post arrives in each morning. Just in case the supply of Post bags turns out to be insufficient, I can get 120 biodegradable poop bags on for $7.64, or about 6.4 cents each (or, I suppose, drive to the grocery store and buy the nonbiodegradable variety for five cents each).

5.She goes on to say that the County Council can’t afford to be distracted from its one and only mission: dealing with the budget crisis. Why then does the council agenda for this coming Tuesday show her “distracting” the council for about 10 minutes to issue a proclamation recognizing a member of the WMATA board? Why would she allow the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (which she chairs) to spend time discussing historic preservation of the “Kensington Cabin”? Though I have questioned the intelligence of some council decisions over the years, I refuse to believe that our elected officials lack the gray matter to deal with more than one issue per year. Apparently – according to council agendas – Floreen agrees.

Floreen’s only point that merits even a second look is the one about a bag tax’s impact on the poor. But a review of events in the big city next door shows that large retailers and city programs were able to alleviate the impact through bag giveaway programs.

In her commentary, Nancy Floreen claims she would be the “first to sign on” if she believed that a bag tax would make an environmental difference. In fact, she is more responsible for environmentally destructive impervious surfaces, sprawl and traffic than just about anyone in the county, save perhaps Doug Duncan and Steve Silverman. She comes late aboard popular environmental measures like the Purple Line and only after having helped to bankrupt the state transportation budget on the environmentally catastrophic Intercounty Connector.

I’m not the least surprised that Floreen opposes common-sense environmentalism — that fits her record. What amazes me is that someone as accomplished as she would publish such a piece of poorly reasoned trash.

PS. Keep your eyes open for a rebuttal to Floreen from none other than the Ferguson Foundation.

©2011 Keith Berner

03.11.11 Sierra Club Pollutes – Don’t Contribute

March 11, 2011

We used to be avid supporters of the Sierra Club. We withdrew our support from the organization two years ago, when we were subject to a deluge of junk mail at a volume I have never seen from any nonprofit organization (as many as three pieces per week).  What’s worse, our myriad efforts to stop the flow of garbage — contacting them by phone, email, web form, and fax — went completely unheeded.  For some time last year, they actually stopped sending the junk, but it resumed a couple of weeks ago.

There are a ton of good environmental organizations out there that do NOT pollute through junk mail and that respect stakeholders’ wishes. There is no reason to support a so-called environmental organization that behaves otherwise. (Note: I have been a nonprofit executive and understand the need for good causes to solicit funds through direct mail. At issue here is the sheer quantity and the organization’s steadfast refusal to honor requests to stop.)

Here are some of the other organizations I have been proud to support that are much better environmental citizens than Sierra Club:

  • Audobon Society
  • Chesapeake Climate Action Network (though, now that Takoma Parker and CCAN leader Mike Tidwell is regularly in the news telling people not to bother taking small steps to save energy and — more recently — to buy guns to prepare for climate-induced food riots, we might want to rethink this one)
  • Conservation Fund
  • Earth Justice
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Resources for the Future
  • Union of Concerned Scientists

There are plenty more.  See and for information about and ratings of nonprofit organizations.

Please vote with your dollars, by redirecting your contributions from the Sierra Club to one or more of the above organizations. Better yet, drop a note to the following people at Sierra Club to let them know you’re doing so:

©2011 Keith Berner