Gov. Martin O'Malley drew praise and protesters in Baltimore Tuesday night for his handling of environmental issues.
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science gave the two-term Democrat an award for his leadership in the long-running effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and in committing the state to reducing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.
"Governor O'Malley has listened to science in striving for Chesapeake Bay restoration and sustainable growth in Maryland," Donald F. Boesch, the center's president, said in a release announcing the award. "His leadership in responding to climate change through energy conservation and transformation has set a national standard."
The center presented O'Malley with its Reginald V. Truitt award - named for the founder of UM's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory - at a dinner at the Columbus Center in the Inner Harbor. On hand were three previous recipients of the award - former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, former Calvert County state Sen. Bernie Fowler and former U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.
Invited guests to the awards ceremony had to walk past a noisy clutch of sign-waving protesters, who chanted that O'Malley didn't deserve the award because of his support for a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Calvert County.
Opponents contend the $3.8 billion facility poses environmental, health and safety risks for nearby residents and would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging more drilling for natural gas and exporting it long distances. O'Malley rebuffed appeals that he press for a more comprehensive analysis of safety issues, and backed a key permit to build the facility, saying he saw natural gas as a "bridge" fuel to shift society from coal and oil to renewable energy sources. Federal regulators, in approving the project, said opponents' concerns were either unwarranted or beyond their ability to assess.
O'Malley broke away from a fund-raiser in Potomac for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is vying to succeed him, to come to Baltimore to accept the award. He waxed philosophical about the environmental challenges facing Maryland and the planet, calling these "disturbing times."
While ignoring the Cove Point protesters whose chants could be heard inside, O'Malley acknowledged complaints some have made that Maryland is doing more - and burdening its residents more - than neighboring states in trying to restore the bay.
"The answer is that it is a risk,'' he said, "and you have to be willing to risk action on the faith that your own leadership makes a difference - and that good actions are also contagious.
"And so we lead. We lead because we can. We lead because we must. We lead because the future of our children and grandchildren depend on our leadership in the here and now."