Hogan, Frosh could clash in new roles

Governor Hogan and top lawyer Frosh could clash -- especially on the environment

Next month brings Maryland a new chief executive and a new top lawyer who differ sharply on important issues — particularly how to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. They've also clashed personally in the past.

As they prepare to meet Friday, Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and Attorney General-elect Brian E. Frosh both say they want to turn the page and work together. But the two men could find themselves at odds.

Hogan, a Republican, campaigned on a promise to roll back stormwater fees that critics deride as a "rain tax." He has also pledged to weaken or reverse pollution regulations targeting chicken farms on the Eastern Shore.

Frosh, a Democrat, helped write and pass many of the state's environmental laws. He voted for the stormwater fees and has supported efforts to limit pollution by farms.

When the men take office, Frosh could find his green leanings curbed by needing Hogan's approval to take some legal action, and by the governor's control over the staffing of state regulatory agencies.

"Brian's in for a tough ride," predicted Gerald Winegrad, a former state senator and longtime environmental advocate. "There's only so much an attorney general can do. The head man … is the governor."

Asked about Frosh this week, Hogan sounded a hopeful note.

"We've had some differences of opinion," Hogan said, "but I'm looking forward to sitting down with him and seeing where we can find common ground."

Frosh likewise struck a positive tone.

"I'm not going into this anticipating there's going to be conflict," Frosh said. "I think we're going to be able to work together."

The potential is there for friction. During his 28 years representing Montgomery County in the General Assembly, Frosh was among the state's leading environmental lawmakers. He led the charge to ban drilling for oil and gas in the Chesapeake Bay, to ban bay-fouling phosphate detergents and to promote recycling, among other causes. He repeatedly won endorsements from green groups, including for attorney general.

"He'll be a great champion, and we expect a lot from him on the enforcement front," said Karla Raettig, head of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Frosh is scheduled to speak Thursday at the University of Maryland School of Law on the importance of enforcing environmental laws.

"It's a high priority for me," he said. "It'll get a lot of attention from me."

Frosh, 68, has put a premium on environmental policing since the 1990s, when in response to reports of lax enforcement under Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening he ushered through a law requiring the Department of the Environment to report annually on the number of inspections, citations and fines it issues.

"You can pass all the laws you want," Frosh said, "but if you don't enforce them, they have no effect."

Frosh said he plans to go after polluters wherever they are. But that could put him crosswise at times with his client, the governor. Although Hogan has declined to say much about his policies prior to being sworn in Jan. 21, he has vowed to repeal the stormwater fee law and to fight the farm pollution rules being put forward in the waning days of the O'Malley administration.

Frosh and Hogan have butted heads before. Frosh co-chaired a legislative investigation into allegations of politically motivated firings of state employees under the last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Hogan was Ehrlich's appointments secretary, putting him on the lawmaker's hot seat.

Hogan chafed at the probe, and in 2005 called a Baltimore radio talk show to denounce it as a "witch hunt." The investigation concluded that some workers were improperly fired based on political considerations. Republicans said no laws were broken.

Frosh said that dust-up won't affect him.

"He's going to be my client," Frosh said. "I've got to be as good a lawyer as I can possibly be and personally put everything that happened in the past behind us and start new."

Frosh's predecessor, Douglas F. Gansler, also made environmental protection a priority. He testified for and even proposed green legislation in Annapolis. While some environmentalists didn't think Gansler was aggressive enough, his office did bring dozens of cases against polluters, in and out of state, winning record fines in some. He also joined Maryland with other states in filing lawsuits, as well as friend-of-court briefs defending federal environmental rules.

But he had a fellow Democrat , O'Malley, to back his legal play. Frosh could find it tougher to get Hogan's blessing for some environmental litigation, especially if it injects Maryland into politically charged national controversies over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ehrlich refused to let his Democratic attorney general, J. Joseph Curran Jr., file legal papers on behalf of Maryland in multistate litigation over power plant pollution. Gansler said that when he succeeded Curran, he got O'Malley's OK and went ahead with it.

Curran, 83, said such differences with Ehrlich were few and far between. He recalled parting company with one of the Democratic governors he represented, William Donald Schaefer, over a lawsuit Curran wanted to file.

"Sometimes you might disagree, but it's the client's call," Curran said. "We're all in the same state; we all have the same goals."

That may not be so in the case of Hogan and Frosh. During the campaign, Hogan pledged to "stand up" to federal environmental regulators and said he would pressure Pennsylvania and New York to pay a larger share of bay cleanup costs. Frosh declined to address those positions or speculate on how possible disagreements with the governor-elect may play out.

"There is potential for conflict," Frosh acknowledged "I hope there won't be any. I think if we find someone breaking the law, I'll be able to agree with the governor on what to do about it."

Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland law professor who specializes in environmental issues, said some activists may be expecting too much from Frosh.

"He's a cop now," she said, "not a general all-around policy guy. … I hope they understand what his office does, because he can't necessarily stick his nose into all the policy problems. He needs to be the attorney general first and foremost, and that's law enforcement."

Even that may not be so clear cut.

While the attorney general has authority to act independently in some legal matters, the office also represents each of the executive branch's departments and agencies, which take direction from the governor. Observers note that a governor can effectively limit the number of environmental violations taken to court by cutting back on the staff to carry out inspections.

Environmentalists contend that state agencies under O'Malley skimped at times on enforcement because staffs had been cut. And a few years ago, lack of staff in Gansler's office led to the buildup of nearly 300 environmental enforcement cases awaiting legal action.

"If [Hogan] wants to slash enforcement of agricultural regulations, he can do it," said Winegrad. "The attorney general can enforce, but there won't be people to bring [violations] to his attention."

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and fellow environmental advocate, predicted that Frosh would do his best to find common ground with the new governor.

Pinsky added, however, "Brian will do what he has to do to enforce the law."

Baltimore Sun reporters Erin Cox and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

twheeler@baltsun.com

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