Maryland spends $292,000 to protect tiger salamander

An olive green salamander marked with dark stripes and spots — nestled safely in Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening’s hands — peered at Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

Schaefer peered back, made a face, gingerly touched the salamander’s head and inquired: “What does he do? What is he good for?”

The answer: The small animal is a good research subject. With its thin skin, which is susceptible to pollution, the tiger salamander is a good indicator of whether the water where it lives is polluted or clean, said Steven McCoy, program manager for a state environmental education program.

But the real reason the Board of Public Works agreed in February to spend $292,000 for 130 acres of land in Kent County with a pond where tiger salamanders breed is that there are so few of the creatures that they are an endangered species in Maryland.

Glendening, noting that the tiger salamander used to be plentiful, said it is important to the state to protect its biodiversity.

McCoy, who brought the salamander to the board meeting, said his agency did not go out and trap the creature from a wild habitat. It was confiscated from a pet store where it had been offered for sale.

The Kent County property was one of three purchases approved Wednesday by the Board of Public Works with funds provided through the Heritage Conservation Fund. The fund was set up to let the state acquire land with rare or endangered plants or animals as well as preserve wilderness areas and wetlands.

The board agreed to spend $382,000 for two pieces of land totaling 438 acres in Allegany County to preserve several rare or endangered plant species.

The state worked with the Nature Conservancy, a private conservation group, to preserve the three parcels of land. The Nature Conservancy bought them when they went on the market and held them until the state, which cannot move as fast, was ready to purchase them.

The Heritage Conservation Fund was established in 1986 as part of the state’s Program Open Space. Since then, the fund has been used to preserve more than 9,700 acres of land.

Autos, trucks biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in VA

Find the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Virginia. Those big smokestack plumes from utilities burning coal for electricity? Close. Walk to the garage and you’d be getting warmer.

By far, the biggest contributor of emissions linked to global warming are the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles driven in Virginia, says a professor who crunched the numbers.

James Winebrake, an energy management specialist at James Madison University, suspected the largest contributor would be utilities when he began his study for the EPA.

“It turns out it’s transportation,” he said. “I don’t think most people know that, but there is so much driving and so many people driving that it really adds up.”

Winebrake gathered figures on the amount of coal, natural gas and gasoline burned from various sources in Virginia and calculated how much carbon dioxide was released.

Drivers bought 3.3 billion gallons of gasoline in Virginia in 1995, the latest year in which data is available, compared with 2.9 billion gallons in 1990.

Vehicles burning gasoline contributed 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 24 percent from electric utilities, 23 percent from industries, 8 percent from residential uses such as heating oil and natural gas and 5 percent from commercial uses.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the primary greenhouse gas. When released into the atmosphere, the gases act like a greenhouse to trap the planet’s heat.

Carbon dioxide emissions in Virginia increased from 107 million tons in 1990 to 114 million tons in 1995, according to Winebrake.

Emissions of methane, another greenhouse gas, from landfills, livestock and wastewater plants accounted for less than 2 percent of the total.

One positive finding, Winebrake said, is that forest expansion in Virginia has led to a reduction of about 23 million tons of carbon dioxide. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The EPA asked each state to form a baseline for future emissions monitoring. To meet current international agreements, average annual emissions beginning in 2008 would need to be 7 percent less than annual emissions in 1990 in the United States. Because Virginia’s emissions have grown since 1990, Virginia would have to reduce current emissions levels by 13 percent, Winebrake said.

“If we want to look at reducing emissions, transportation would be a good start,” he said. Besides driving less and driving fuel-efficient cars, Winebrake said people can reduce their contribution to global warming — and save money — by turning out lights when unneeded, lowering thermostats and using energy- saving products.

VA passes bills to reduce amount of out-of-state trash

Three bills backed by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore to reduce the amount of out-of-state trash dumped in the state won overwhelming approval in the House of Delegates and the Senate.

The bills would ban garbage barges from Virginia waterways, cap landfill growth and require the state to regulate trash trucks.

“Virginians have been demanding action to get better control of the increasing volumes of solid waste being deposited in Virginia,” Gilmore said after the legislature’s actions. “The three bills passed today are the most comprehensive and responsible proposals on the table, and concerned citizens have supported them.”

Virginia imported 3.2 million tons of trash in 1997, second only to Pennsylvania. Gilmore has made curbing out-of-state trash a top priority in the 1999 General Assembly.

Del. M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, has said garbage barges would pose a significant environmental risk on Virginia waterways. A barge can carry as much trash as 300 tractor-trailers.

Opponents of the barge ban have noted that the federal Maritime Safety Administration considers barges a safe and environmentally friendly means of transporting waste. They have also argued that many forms of hazardous waste are already being safely transported by barge.

No out-of-state trash is currently coming into Virginia by barge, although Houston-based Waste Management Inc. wants to start shipping New York City garbage to Virginia by barge in late spring for disposal at a company-owned landfill in Charles City County.

The second bill in Gilmore’s package would cap the amount of trash landfills can accept at 2,000 tons a day or the average daily intake in 1998, whichever is greater. The bill would allow small landfills to continue to grow while freezing growth at large dumps.

The bill to regulate trash trucks also would establish a fund for the cleanup and closure of old landfills and impose a moratorium on new landfills until July 1, 2000.

Worth noting

* Turtle nixed. The Eastern box turtle is not destined to become Virginia’s official state reptile. The House voted to kill the idea 52-45 after debate. “Is this really a suitable symbol for the great commonwealth of Virginia?” asked Del. Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach. He noted that the eastern box turtle also is known as “terrapin Carolina.”

* Special delivery. Protesting the Big Apple’s export of millions of tons of trash to Pennsylvania, environmental activists and Pennsylvania legislative staffers dumped 50 pounds of shredded office paper into three boxes marked “Special Delivery” and addressed them to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “The sad thing is, when Giuliani gets the packages, opens them, then throws them out, it will all probably end up back in Pennsylvania,” lamented Michael Manzo, spokesperson for state Rep. Camille George.

* Wapiti comeback. Elk, once extinct in the Bay watershed, now number nearly 500 in Northcentral Pennsylvania, according to a census by the state Game Commission. From the time of their reintroduction between 1913 and 1926, the herd grew slowly and occupied a wilderness area in Cameron and Elk counties. As recently as 1992, only 183 elk were counted during a midwinter survey. That grew to an estimated 312 elk in the 1997 survey.

* Canada backs air cleanup. Eight Midwest and Southern states, including Virginia and West Virginia, have filed suit to block the EPA’s plan to require sharp cuts in their emissions of nitrogen oxides, which drifts across state borders, to protect East Coast air quality. Now, the EPA is getting some cross-border help of its own. Canada’s foreign affairs minister and environment minister recently announced their application to intervene in the lawsuit. Canada would appear as a “friend of the court” and support the EPA program.