Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. voted in Congress against tougher rules for arsenic in drinking water and to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling -- votes highlighted yesterday by three environmental groups as they endorsed Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
The votes came last year, when Ehrlich agreed with the League of Conservation Voters -- one of the organizations backing Townsend -- 21 percent of the time, the least of any of Maryland's eight members in the House of Representatives. The league's "scorecard" was based on 14 votes, including bills on arsenic levels, oil drilling and a measure opposed by Ehrlich to give the Environmental Protection Agency more funding for enforcement.
Looking beyond Tuesday's primary to the likely nominees, the league's Maryland chapter joined with Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club's state affiliate in a news conference at the Annapolis City Dock.
"The choice is clear," said Susan Brown, executive director of the league in Maryland, as she announced the endorsement, briefly squeezing Townsend's hand. "Her opponent's anti-environmental record is out of sync with Maryland voters."
Ehrlich's spokesman, Paul Schurick, said the groups "are choosing to ignore literally dozens of environmental votes that Bob has cast in his 16 years -- pro-wetlands, pro-Chesapeake Bay, pro-air quality."
Ehrlich voted in July last year against rules established by the Clinton administration creating tougher arsenic water standards. Schurick said Ehrlich agreed with the Bush administration that the scientific rationale for the more stringent limit was questionable.
Townsend said Ehrlich's record was not acceptable. "Eight out of 10 times, he voted against the environment," she said.
Responding to the issue of the oil-drilling vote in August of last year, Schurick said the decision for Ehrlich was easy: "It was supported by labor unions, it was supported by the president."
The fate of the Alaskan plain was an issue in the 2000 presidential race. George W. Bush said drilling would ease the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Al Gore said it could cause grave environmental damage.
"Environmental damages are expected to be minimal and the economic consequences substantial," Schurick said.
Townsend, as lieutenant governor, has no voting record, but the environmental groups expressed confidence in her yesterday. She "knows the health impacts and costs from air pollution, commits to cleaning up the air in the state, commits to the state purchasing energy from nonpolluting sources, and commits to the state purchasing of clean, high-efficiency cars for the state fleet," said Charlie Garlow of the Sierra Club.
In answer to a question, Townsend reiterated her support for the Intercounty Connector across the traffic-choked Washington suburbs -- a project opposed by many environmental groups and by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
"I think we have to build it in an environmentally sensitive way," Townsend said.