In Maryland, the environment is becoming a major issue as Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Robert Ehrlich spar, once again, for the top office in Annapolis.

The Baltimore Sun did a thorough job explaining the differences between the two candidates following a debate over the weekend. Both candidates differ on their approaches to energy, environmental regulation and restoration.

Ehrlich, the Republican candidate who served as Maryland’s governor from 2003 to 2007, seemed to toe the line between restoring the Chesapeake Bay and not wanting to restrict the livelihoods of those who make a living from it. Ehrlich says O’Malley’s policies for restricting water access to restore the state’s oyster industry are “unfair” to watermen who work in the bay. The former governor is certainly aware that the Chesapeake’s restoration is a major issue, so he was careful with his words, saying he wanted to give those in the agriculture, development and fishing sectors a “seat at the table” when it came to developing a new policy to clean up the bay.

The Republican challenger also said he wanted to soften or repeal some of the laws the O’Malley administration put in place to mandate that 5 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources and that the state reduce greenhouse emissions by 25 percent in 2020. Ehrlich also went public with his skepticism that human activity is causing global warming.

As for the incumbent, O’Malley defends the mandates and policies in place for renewable energy and emission reductions. While he did say the goals were ambitious, he said the goals could be accomplished with substantial growth in “offshore wind farms.” The Democratic candidate also said he didn’t have a problem with an “active” Environmental Protection Agency when it came to regulation of carbon emissions. O’Malley simply said the states have failed to achieve environmental goals over the last 27 years.

The lengthy discussion was a sharp contrast to some of the energy dialogue taking place in other races around the country. Energy and environmental issues were virtually absent during the most recent Florida senate debate, and in West Virginia the dialogue has turned to firing bullets through the cap-and-trade proposal.

The most recent polls show that O’Malley is pulling away from Ehrlich, but Ehrlich has yet to pull out any weapons to demonstrate his opposition to energy regulation. There’s still plenty of time left to do so.

Maryland governor's race gets environmental
While the environment has been absent from many political debates this fall, both candidates running for Governor of Maryland are speaking up.