Regionalism laid to waste


The reasons behind Mayor Kurt Schmoke's decision earlier this fall not to seek an early end to Baltimore's incinerator moratorium spoke volumes about the sorry lack of cooperation among the governments in the metropolitan region. Sure, the mayor had politics on his mind; incinerators don't vote, but incinerator foes do, as they will in next year's mayoral elections. Still, Mr. Schmoke's change of heart can also be laid to causes beyond his sphere of influence -- namely, causes in spheres known as Baltimore and Howard counties.

Recall, first, the motivation for lifting the moratorium was to clear the way for Willard Hackerman to replace his Pulaski Highway incinerator with a state-of-the art trash burner that would serve most of the jurisdictions in the metro area. Some applauded this as an attempt by the mayor to assert leadership in creating a regional waste-disposal strategy, after years of lip service by politicians. However, any credit for the mayor must be tempered with his long-standing failure to be a drum major for regionalism. At the same time, blame belongs to the local county executives and County Council members who have heeded too closely the suburban mindset that regionalism is bad for the 'burbs because its main beneficiary would be the city. Such closed-mind thinking ignores the fact that spreading around waste-disposal facilities means both the pains and the gains would be shared by all the jurisdictions.

So, sensing that regionalism is kaput, Baltimore County officials have negotiated with a national firm to truck county waste to Pennsylvania. Last July, Howard County closed a similar deal that would lead to hauling local trash out of state. Mr. Schmoke, observing these developments and mindful of the incinerator plan's political negatives, decided to leave the moratorium alone. He has called for the matter to be studied. In other words, it has been shoved way back on the shelf.

Regional give-and-take, especially between Baltimore City and Baltimore County, couldn't appear to be in a worse state. The waste strategy meltdown comes amid a city-county battle over the federal Moving to Opportunity housing program, offering further evidence that Mr. Schmoke and County Executive Roger Hayden have hardly communicated with each other. A sorry situation.

Just as sorry is the way politicians in the Baltimore area have done little more than talk a good game about regionalism, particularly as it applies to waste disposal.

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