State of the State
Is Delaware being ruined? Or does our quality of life rank among the best? The answer depends on who you ask. Here's what some of the state's highest-ranking public officials have to report.
Russell Peterson’s phone rang early and often one day late last summer. Several local candidates had heard about an energy company that is considering building an ethanol refinery in Claymont along the
The candidates turned to Peterson, an internationally known environmental activist and, as governor in 1971, architect of
“Stand against it,” Peterson advised. “It doesn’t need to be in the Coastal Zone. That would establish a precedent. There are no exceptions.”
In a nutshell, “no exceptions” is how the Coastal Zone Act has protected the
The proposed ethanol plant is only one issue the state faces in the delicate balance between economic development, environment protection and public health.
But there are obviously many other concerns.
This fall, the attention of more business-minded folks is focused on the resolution of a workers’ compensation issue that continues to drag on behind the political scenes. Economic development types argue that the state is losing valuable businesses to the threat of high-priced premiums while trial lawyers battle against a cap on court awards.
Other residents, such as parents of public school students, are concerned with the Delaware Student Testing Program. Are their children getting the proper education, or are they simply learning how to take tests? Of course, all eyes are on the
If you’re a prisoner or family or friend to a prisoner, odds are you’re disgusted with the health care, or lack thereof, in
Most of us are more likely concerned about the financial problems with DelDOT’s Transportation Trust Fund and the potential for tax and fee hikes to get road construction efforts back on track. The more paranoid among us may be preoccupied by a possible avian flu pandemic, a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane or another terrorist attack. (We understand we no longer need to sweat the killer bees.)
More immediate threats to the public health are
From the environment and economy to public safety and transportation, there are many factors that profoundly affect our quality of life. Land use, for example, is an issue that transcends—or involves—many of these categories.
People continue to move to
There is no fancy formula to determine the overall state of our state, so how do we begin to gauge our quality of life? How good, or bad, do we have it here?
It all depends who you are, who you ask and when you ask them.
Cleaning up and protecting
John Hughes, secretary of the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, admits that we’re fighting an uphill battle to make our rivers, bays and streams once again “swimmable and fishable,” but he says you have to start somewhere.
“Everybody could move out of
The announcement of swimming areas being closed to the public due to high bacteria counts has become a rite of summer in recent years. Though our ocean beaches seem relatively clean, DNREC has issued a standing warning against swimming in our inland bays because of pollutants. We still read about fish kills in the inland bays, and we’ve all winced at the green scum that accumulates on pond surfaces and other polluted bodies of water.
The primary problem is nutrients, which come from sewage, gardens, lawns and farms. We recognize that over-fertilizing our lawn is harmful to the environment, and we support the cleanup of our waterways, yet the problem still exists.
“Our level of pollution is still high,” Hughes says. “Years ago we kind of picked the low hanging fruit when we regulated community sewer systems and point sources: the factories and the pollution you see coming out of the end of a pipe.
“Now we’re down to the hard stuff—subtle, pervasive pollution. Pollution caused by over-fertilizing a backyard garden, remaining pollution from septic systems and imperfect sewer plants.”
The state continues to attack the nutrient problem through policy such as the Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Management Program, which regulates and manages farming activities that generate or apply nutrients. But most of our surface water still falls short of federally mandated water quality standards. The federal standards require the state to examine the capacity of a body of water and determine how much of any given pollutant it can handle and still be fishable and swimmable.
“When you apply a fishable and swimmable standard to
Hughes says we recognize the sources and amounts of pollution better than ever, but successful pollution control strategies are not easy to develop because all players, from environmentalists to developers, must agree on an approach. DNREC has, for example, worked for a year and a half on a strategy to control pollution in the inland bays. The plan was finally unveiled this fall.
The task of cleaning up polluted air falls on other states as much as it does
“Air quality is sort of a no-fun, constant and relentless job here,” Hughes says. “There are new initiatives, regulations, new concerns coming across this desk every week. I don’t anticipate any end until we develop alternatives to fossil fuels, particularly for automobiles.”
Hughes, however, is encouraged by two recent developments in
“If NRG meets our standards for the old plant and supplies us with the electricity we need down in southern
Hughes notes that it would cost millions, if not billions, of dollars in improvements for the current plant to meet state pollution standards.
The installation of Valero’s long-awaited scrubbers was completed after years of legal wrangling between former refinery owners and the state and federal governments, but Hughes believes Valero, unlike previous companies that ditched the refinery before making changes to control pollution, is willing to invest in the environment.
“It looks to me like they’re here for a while,” he says. “Previous owners looked like they were renting the place rather than buying it. If you rent a car, you don’t rebuild the engine. Valero is rebuilding the engine.”
Land Use and Development
DNREC’s mission also includes protecting and managing the state’s natural resources. A key to meeting that mandate is to preserve the best of what is left. Land use, Hughes says, is a major component of environmental policy.
“You can have every environmental law, regulation and policy in the world, and you can have all the money to work with and all the employees and wonderful people that I have,” Hughes says, “but if you’ve lost the land use, you don’t have an environment left to do much with.”
Governor Ruth Ann Minner’s Livable Delaware approach allows room for economic growth and development, but the growth must occur in areas already supported by infrastructure and services. The approach includes preserving open space and natural resources.
The state has preserved 42,000 acres since the Open Space Council was formed in 1990. Minner touts $122 million spent to permanently preserve 462 farms encompassing more than 82,000 acres. The state is now focusing on preserving prime forest. All tidal wetlands are protected from development, so “they can be put down as a saved resource,” Hughes says. “But when you look at the amount of land in
Hughes cites a lack of money to purchase and preserve large tracts. He says the $9 million typically allotted for land preservation in the budget each year doesn’t go far with today’s high property values.
Minner hopes the legislature will do next year what it didn’t this past session: pass a Transfer of Development Rights bill that steers development to areas of existing high density and keeps open space open. Minner battled with lawmakers during the end of the last General Assembly, ultimately vetoing a bill that would have weakened a major conservation program. The Open Space Act provides for a State Resource Area program that designates 286,000 acres as important natural habitats that could be included for preservation or protected from certain kinds of development. The General Assembly had passed a bill that would have let property owners exclude their land from the program. Development decisions would be made at the county level.
“The state resource area was a concept where we just asked for additional protection for those valuable areas,” Hughes says. “If you want to come into
“But if you’re here for the long haul, if you’re part of the
It’s no secret.
Minner entered the governor’s office in 2000 vowing to make cancer control a priority. Her agenda appears to be working. Other priorities include public health preparedness, infant mortality, and elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in health care.
“It’s a pretty big bite for any governor to take,” says public health director Dr. Jaime Rivera.
Even Republican critics such as House Majority Leader Wayne Smith tip their cap to Minner’s commitment to fighting cancer.
According to the nonprofit United Health Foundation,
Minner and Rivera credit a number of new programs for helping to lower cancer mortality figures, including the Screening for Life Program that pays for cancer screening tests for qualified adults. Since 2002 the program has screened 944 uninsured or underinsured residents, removed polyps from 166 patients and diagnosed 19 cancers.
The Delaware Cancer Treatment Program, established in 2004, paid for cancer treatment for 164 residents during its first year. The program pays for a year of treatment for uninsured residents diagnosed with cancer who are at or below 650 pe