Maryland's environmental advocates measure the success of the 1996 General Assembly session not by what legislation was passed, but by what got stopped.
With Gov. Parris Glendening and legislative officials poised to ease current regulations at the request of business leaders, environmental lobbyists with such groups as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Clean Water Action approached this year's 90-day session with dread.
Those advocates had to wait until the session ended at midnight April 8 to see exactly how they had fared.
Legislation making it tougher for the state to enact industry regulations stronger than federal standards failed. A bill giving liability protections to companies conducting their own "environmental audits was killed.
And the so-called "brownfields" bill, which the advocates say could have protected developers from being sued for hazardous materials found on their land, never made it out of a House-Senate conference committee.
Glendening, House Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller were proponents of all three bills.
"Given the agenda we were handed in the beginning, we did great," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, a lobbyist with Clean Water Action. "The legislation that would have harmed the environment failed."
She said that in too many cases, well-intentioned environmental reforms, which could have made life easier for Maryland industries and developers, went too far and hurt recent gains made to protect the environment.
All the parties agreed on legislation adding about 22,000 acres to the state's list of "wildlands" protected from development, a bill the House speaker believes is one of the best measures passed this year.
Also, Taylor won approval of his proposal to create tourism sites across Maryland, offering tax credits to businesses operating in areas protected because of their cultural, historical or natural resource significance. But the failure of the brownfields bill was a tough pill to swallow for many legislative leaders.
Environmental advocates said they support the concept behind the legislation - encouraging developers to clean up currently unusable properties. But they had several problems with the bill, including provisions in the House version that would have given property owners strong protections once they submitted a remediation plan to the state instead of after the cleanup was done.
Taylor, D-Allegany, said the environmental movement in Maryland is not mainstream. "It is radical," he said. "That is almost single-handedly jeopardizing Maryland's economic future."
Tom Grasso, director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Maryland chapter, said Taylor's complaints of environmental radicalism are "patently incorrect."
"The business community tried to use the environment as a scapegoat (for Maryland's lagging economy). They could have gotten some of these reforms that would have been helpful and not been destructive. But they pushed for reforms that would have been destructive."
Miller, D-Prince George's, acknowledged the success of the environmentalists - but added that changes must be made to stimulate the economy. "We can't protect polluters, but we have to make sure private enterprise can work," he said. "They (the environmental community) have got to allow industries to flourish and development to occur. Occasionally, a tree is going to get cut down."
Glendening indicated that reforms similar to the ones that failed this year could be introduced in the future. He said the state is trying to find a "reasonable balance" between industry and the environment.
Grasso said he hopes this year's failures show the Glendening administration that the scales are not balanced and need to be tilted back toward the environment.
"I think this session it's been pretty clear the governor's number one priority is economic development," he said. "I think they need to rethink where the environment fits in his list of priorities."