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SATURDAY MAILBOX

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Attack on BGE poses threat to business

I am a proud Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employee and a resident of Baltimore County - a stone's throw from the city line. I grew up around Baltimore, attended local schools and am raising a family here.

But will I be able to retire here? I'm not so sure. I'm afraid the political climate is going to drive my company away from Maryland ("Rate bill passes," June 15).

The political approach the legislature has taken on the electricity price increase has relied on the age-old "we-vs.-they" rhetoric that suggests "we" - the common man - are being stamped on by "they" - big business.

That may produce a short-term political win but a long-term regional disaster.

Successful businesses produce tax revenues, create living wages and provide opportunity directly through jobs and indirectly for the vendors and small business that they work with.

But now more than 5,000 common-man local BGE and Constellation Energy employees may be at risk because of this political approach arrived at by Maryland's legislative leadership.

Energy prices have risen - for electricity, gasoline, natural gas, fuel oil, on and on - but local electricity costs, long legislatively capped at 13-year-old rates, still can't rise to market levels.

I am a common man. I don't earn $80,000 a year in wages.

But I know that business is good for a city. Business headquarters in the city mean property tax revenues. And if the city's services and schools were stronger, I'm sure more workers would stay.

Driving business away will not get you to a stronger city. Stifling the business climate is wrong.

And now I figure Constellation Energy - like Allegheny Energy, which was once headquartered in Hagerstown and is now in Pennsylvania - will look to some other state, away from the interfering, point-scoring politicians who lack the foresight to see beyond the next election.

And I'll be looking in area real estate sections during my vacation. What choice do I have?

James Thierer

Baltimore

Time to nationalize the energy industry

Recent articles on energy - and especially those I read Wednesday morning - highlight to me two basic facts.

The first is that the current governor is owned lock, stock and barrel, as the saying goes, by the energy industry in this state, and thus must be defeated in November ("Ehrlich blasts Democrats' utility rate bill," June 14). He represents it, not us, and thus no longer deserves our votes.

Second, it is time to nationalize the electricity producers and also the oil and gas companies across this nation.

To those who will no doubt scream that this is socialism, my answer is: So be it.

I am happy to support capitalism so long as it benefits the majority of the country's citizenry at all economic levels, but now it is failing to do that.

Just as the public owns the television airwaves, so, too, should we ultimately own the nation's energy production capacities - not the robber barons who gouge us now and their paid shills in the Ehrlich administration.

We are at a crossroads in our economic history - much as we were in 1933 under the first Roosevelt administration - and the time has thus arrived for our elected and other government officials to vote for the masses of the people and federalize all energy production so that it is better run for the benefit of the masses, not just the few.

Blaine Taylor

Towson

Wrong to portray growth as inevitable

I was disappointed that some of the information presented at the Reality Check Plus charrette last week was false or misleading ("Getting ahead of the game," June 10).

For instance, some participants called growth "inevitable." But in truth, nothing can grow forever. At some point, we will run out of energy or water or food to support any more growth.

The U.S. Census Bureau's forecast of a 1.5 million person population increase for Maryland in the coming decades is based on the expected growth in the U.S. population as well as Maryland's recent population trends.

But the bottom line is that this population increase will not happen if Maryland governments stop encouraging growth and development.

In addition, some speakers said that development can be "sustainable." But the reality is that each additional U.S. citizen requires 10 acres to 25 acres of land to provide that person with housing, food, work, transportation, energy and entertainment.

So every new residential housing unit requires us to develop many acres of land to support each person in that complex.

That is hardly sustainable.

Robert Fireovid

Greenbelt

The writer is treasurer of the Interfaith Coalition for the Environment.

Planning must start at the regional level

I am writing to comment on two articles in last Saturday's Sun. One was about infill development ("Outrage over infill in suburban areas," June 10) and the other was about a growth-visioning effort known as Reality Check Plus ("Getting ahead of the game," June 10).

The juxtaposition of these articles was interesting. On the one hand, we had the Reality Check Plus events, at which a cross-section of stakeholders discussed growth issues at the regional scale - i.e., at the 30,000-foot level.

On the other hand, the infill issue was discussed at the project level.

Infill development in Smart Growth areas (i.e. priority funding areas) is important for the program's success.

However, discussion of growth issues at the regional scale does not happen enough.

This is why the Maryland chapter of the American Planning Association, along with other sponsors, has contributed time and money to the Reality Check Plus effort.

It is interesting to see at these events how developers, environmentalists, community interests and other stakeholders usually agree on a Smart Growth-type approach.

This is not only the case in the events held so far in Maryland but it also generally holds true for similar events held in locations such as North Texas, Utah and Los Angeles.

Participants at the events not only generally agree that growth should be "smart" but they also consistently call for more regional planning.

The biggest challenge for Reality Check Plus follow-up efforts will be to move from that 30,000-foot level to 20,000 feet, to 10,000 feet and find a gentle landing at the local level.

Taking Smart Growth principles from the regional to the local level is important because it is at the local level where most land-use decisions are made.

Maryland is the fifth-most-densely-populated state in the country. It is also a fast-growing state.

We need to be smart about how we manage this growth for the sake of our neighborhoods, communities, regions, the environment and the whole state.

Richard Eberhart Hall

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland chapter of the American Planning Association.

Foam isn't cause of our waste woes

The headline above a recent letter indicated that a City Councilman's proposed ban on the use of foam containers for take-out foods shows real foresight ("Foam container ban shows real foresight," letters, June 9).

In reality, what it shows is a lack of knowledge of Baltimore's practices in solid-waste management and of the lack of any adverse effects by foam containers on waste management.

As a member of the committee that produced the 1995 Solid Waste Management Plan for Baltimore City, I learned that essentially all of the municipal solid wastes collected in the Baltimore region were disposed of in the BRESCO (Baltimore Refuse to Energy System Co.) energy recovery incinerator facility. Thus, contrary to the views expressed in a number of recent letters on the subject, plastic containers do not end up cluttering the local landfills.

As a chemical engineer with a background in plastics recycling, I also know that packaging plastic wastes burn cleanly in properly run waste incinerators, leaving essentially no residual ash.

Then there is the argument that plastic packaging should be replaced by packaging that degrades in the landfills.

There is no benefit there, and in fact, no such thing happens anyway.

This was borne out by the work of William Rathje, an archaeologist who directed the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona, in which samples were excavated at a number of landfills and their content analyzed.

The conclusion of his studies was that even after decades buried in modern landfills, essentially nothing biodegraded.

This is not really all that surprising, as modern landfills are maintained to limit biodegrading, which is environmentally unfriendly.

So what was supposed to be the benefit on this proposed ban on the use of foam containers?

Sidney Rankin

Baltimore

Bush's war sunders the nation's unity

It's happening again in America. News about the killings by Marines in Haditha has produced the same reactions that made the Vietnam War such a tragedy for our country.

Right-wing journalists have called the Time reporters who broke the story "traitors," and a powerful anti-Americanism is rising on the left. It's ugly and getting uglier ("Hawks attack those who dare to speak up," Opinion

Commentary, June 5).

It didn't have to be this way. After the 9/11 attacks, the country was powerfully unified, ready to take on a vicious enemy together. And international support for the United States was strong, even in places such as France and China.

We were together, with much of the world strongly behind us. We had the moral high ground, the military and political advantage, the will to fight even if it meant great sacrifice.

President Bush destroyed that unity and threw away that support. His needless war in Iraq has splintered us politically. He and his conservative friends have poisoned the nation with vicious partisanship.

Al-Qaida and its allies can never defeat America as long as we stand together.

But thanks to Mr. Bush, we are not together. We are at each other's throats.

I do not fear the terrorists; I think that we are still strong enough to withstand whatever they can throw at us, and that our devotion to our republic will endure long after they are gone.

But I am afraid that the damage done by Mr. Bush - his war, his astonishing grab for power and his partisan attacks on all those he sees as his enemies - will haunt our nation for decades.

John Bedell

Catonsville

Support everyone who wants to marry

The argument that allowing gay marriage would denigrate the sanctity of the institution of marriage is infuriatingly stupid ("Bid to ban gay unions flops," June 8). The greatest threat to the institution of marriage is divorce.

I am in a long-term relationship with someone I could legally marry. However, we have made a conscious decision not to get married, because neither of us has much faith in marriage.

As they say, love will keep us together - but a legal document of marriage didn't work for either of us the first time around. But that's just my situation. If someone else wants to marry, I'm all for it.

And I wonder if any of those proclaiming that gay marriage cheapens the institution has ever come across someone who won't get married because gay people might be able to do so.

What the proponents of banning gay marriage are really against is people being gay.

But prohibiting gay marriage hasn't yet stopped anyone from being gay. Conversely, allowing gay marriage wouldn't make anyone "turn gay."

I believe that marriage should be an option for same-sex, as well as straight, couples.

More people declaring love and devotion to each other is a good thing, not something to be viewed with suspicion or disgust.

It is sad that anyone would be against love.

Tina Proveaux

Lutherville

What risky behavior will we ban next?

Although I can appreciate the exuberance of nonsmoking advocates for the action taken recently by Howard County to prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants, I am amazed at the statement by the writer of the letter "No freedom to soil the lungs of others" (June 11) that such a smoking ban "is what the people of this state want."

I wonder exactly when the people of the state were surveyed regarding this subject, and the sampling method used to establish his assertion.

I'm not a smoker. I gave that up long ago, as I considered it adverse to my health and the health of my family members.

I do believe, however, that people who elect to smoke have certain rights and should not be condemned merely because they choose to do something some others find unhealthy or distasteful.

If we follow the writer's train of thought, perhaps we should return to prohibition, because alcohol is certainly not healthy and leads to many traffic accidents and fatalities.

And perhaps the menus at restaurants should only be allowed to include fish, some types of baked chicken or vegetarian dishes, because the people of this state obviously want a healthy diet, free from suspected carcinogens, fats and other substances that harm our general health.

And as long as we're being politically correct, perhaps overweight people should only be served small portions of the healthiest foods.

Craig R. Baader

Baltimore

Rising postal rates aren't outrageous

In a recent column, a writer for a conservative think tank offered some thoughts on the cost of postage in the United States and the Postal Service's proposal to increase the price of a first-class stamp by three cents in 2007 ("Why we're stuck with ever-rising stamp prices," Opinion

Commentary, June 1).

"Why must stamp prices - unlike, say, telephone prices - keep going up?" he wonders.

It's no surprise, I guess, that he didn't use gasoline as an example, or, say, cable television rates. But even the example he did use doesn't make the point he seeks to sustain, because as The New York Times recently reported, the "average monthly local phone bills have grown ... 23 percent" in the last 10 years.

Well, in the last 10 years, the price of a first-class stamp has increased by 22 percent. Pretty close, eh?

He frumps that the Postal Service "has a direct line of credit with the U.S. Treasury" but fails to mention that's not unusual for a federal agency and that further, we have no debt.

And he can't wait to add that the Postal Service "has received $27 billion in taxpayer-funded appropriations since 1970." What he fails to mention, again, is that these taxpayer subsidies ended almost 25 years ago and that the Postal Service has been paying our own way since.

I, for one, don't think the American people are looking for a liquidation sale at the Postal Service, nor is it productive to offer flawed comparisons between Postal Service compensation levels and those of the private sector.

The charter that established the U.S. Postal Service some 35 years ago is not perfect. On that point, most people agree.

Postal Service management has long supported meaningful reform and is continuing to work with the Congress to achieve that result.

Meaningful reform? Yes.

But radical surgery? No.

Azeezaly S. Jaffer

Washington

The writer is a vice president of the U.S. Postal Service.

Use soccer to teach global citizenship

Comedian Paul Rodriguez once wryly commented that "maybe war is God's way of teaching us geography."

I suggest that global soccer is the way to teach not only geography but also world history and politics as well as international relations.

Middle school soccer fervor in the United States could be extended into the classroom by introducing the world's nations through their soccer teams, thereby linking real people with whom young Americans could relate to places with funny names such as Angola and Portugal and to their culture.

The World Cup could then enhance excitement about the vastness of our globe.

Once our kids get into high school and are playing baseball, basketball and (American) football, their interest in soccer may wane, but the world beyond our coastlines and borders will have the meaning to them that is so sorely lacking in the U.S. today.

Pete Nelson

Chester

Is church right to raze Rochambeau?

The Sun's article "Rochambeau has to go, mayor says" (June 10) misses the mark in both accuracy and fairness.

The article implies that the sole reason the demolition permit was granted is because the property is owned by the Catholic Church.

It is true that the church believes it has the right under the First Amendment to use its property in furtherance of its religious mission.

This right has been confirmed by federal statute, court cases and the Maryland attorney general's office, all on issues independent of the Rochambeau situation, and by the city's law department in the case of the Rochambeau.

But the article also suggests that "indisputable city law" would, without the religious freedom issue, require the denial of the demolition permit.

However, the city's Urban Renewal Plan mandates that once the housing department places a demolition application permit into a 12-month waiting period, the city must issue the permit at the end of that time, as long as studies show that rehabilitation of the building is not economically feasible.

And the city commissioned its own independent study that concluded that it was not economically feasible for the church to rehabilitate this property.

Whether the Rochambeau was owned by a church, a bank or some other non-religious entity, the city would have had to issue the demolition permit.

In fact, the church is making a substantial capital investment of $2 million to $3 million in the existing Our Daily Bread building on the same block as the basilica to create a center for women and children, My Sister's Place.

Finally, while the article mentioned that "other organizations ... sided with the archdiocese," it failed to include any of their statements, dismissing them as "downtown business boosters."

In fact, organizations such as the Mount Vernon Cultural District, the Charles Street Development Corp., the Downtown Partnership and nearby nonprofits all have recognized the problems associated with the Rochambeau and the promise of improved aesthetics, culture and tourism from a restored basilica and an even stronger Charles Street.

Sean Caine

Baltimore

The writer is director of communications for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Describing it as one of his most difficult decisions, Mayor Martin O'Malley recently approved a demolition permit for the historic Rochambeau apartment building located at Charles and Franklin streets downtown.

Depending on your perspective, the mayor has either bowed to or hidden behind the archdiocese's threat to sue the city in the name of religious freedom if the permit was denied.

The archdiocese intends to demolish the Rochambeau to build a prayer garden dedicated to Pope John Paul II.

The real issue here is whether or not religious institutions should be exempt from local land-use controls intended to protect the public interest and welfare.

Although the demolition of the Rochambeau runs contrary to the preservation, revitalization and design objectives of the city's Urban Renewal Plan, the project has been endorsed by the Downtown Partnership and other business groups.

I believe that this support really is more for the archdiocese and for its restoration of the basilica than for its plan to demolish a 50-unit apartment building for a small park at a busy intersection.

The Basilica of the Assumption is a National Historic Landmark and one of the most historically and architecturally significant buildings in America. It is undergoing an ambitious $32 million restoration led by Cardinal William H. Keeler, which we support.

Regrettably, even the restoration has been controversial.

The archdiocese has made clear that it would eventually like to demolish the entire block north of the restored basilica, from the Rochambeau to the Our Daily Bread building, for a basilica visitors center, with underground parking.

But that plan cannot get under way for another 15 years until the bonds on the existing city-owned parking garage in the middle of the block are paid off.

However, there is a win-win solution to this problem: Relocate the memorial to the pope to another location in or adjacent to the basilica, renovate the Rochambeau for the pilgrims expected to visit or for market-rate housing, keep the parking garage, and reuse the soon-to-be-vacated Our Daily Bread building for the new visitors center.

Not only would that approach save an important historic building, it also would save 15 years and many millions of dollars.

Tyler Gearhart

Baltimore

The writer is executive director of Preservation Maryland.

I read with disbelief that the Rochambeau will be razed to create a garden or park.

So many of the historic buildings in Baltimore have been given new life. Why not the Rochambeau?

B. C. Harris

Baltimore

So the "Rochambeau has to go, mayor says" (June 10).

What misplaced priorities. Why demolish an apartment building, and a historic one at that, when Baltimoreans crave affordable apartment homes - not condos and not "upscale" residences?

This location is ideal for modest-income people as well as for elderly non-drivers who seek proximity to the arts, downtown churches, the harbor and medical appointments at Mercy Hospital or the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

I would not want to use a "prayer garden" that deprived people of homes, nor do I require a "prayer garden" to dispatch my prayer that the Rochambeau be renovated for use by people who need housing.

Dorian Borsella

Fallston

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