PlanMaryland Forum Panelists Spark Controversy
Event organizers say the panelists are experts in their fields.
An Oct. 31 Carroll County forum that will feature an outspoken skeptic of climate change and other conservative thinkers has drawn criticism from environmentalists and advocates of a state plan aimed at slowing development and protecting farmland.
The lead speaker at the PlanMaryland forum sponsored by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners is climate change skeptic Lord Christopher Monckton, who has made headlines recently for calling Australia’s climate advisor “fascist” and displaying a large swastika at a conference in Los Angeles.
Monckton is among several speakers invited by the board to discuss PlanMaryland, which is being proposed by the state to support smart growth strategies, a term used to describe development that concentrates in urban centers and avoids sprawl. The plan, an executive action that does not require legislative approval, also aims to preserve 300,000 acres of forest and farmland over the next 25 years.
Members of the Carroll County commission have said the plan shifts control of land use from local elected officials to “unelected state bureaucrats.”
The board's actions have been a lightning rod of criticism from some Patch readers and environmentalists.
“This is just an absurd event,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental organization that supports what's called smart growth. “Mostly people are laughing. Nobody sees this as a threat to PlanMaryland. … It’s bringing great humor, and a great deal of sadness that anybody would think this is a way to move forward."
Schmidt-Perkins cited recent news about Monckton, the head of research for the UK’s Independence Party, who was recently told by the House of Lords that he should stop claiming he’s a member.
“[Monckton] is not an expert. He’s a fraud. And, really? This is the kind of discussion that’s going to happen in Maryland? I don’t think so.”
Monckton did not respond to calls and e-mails for comment.
County consultant Jim Simpson defended Monckton, calling him a “brilliant mathematician.”
"If you’ve seen him discuss any of these issues, he’s very good at it," Simpson said. "This man and most of these panelists are providing their expertise free of charge, and it’s my ardent hope they will be received with the graciousness due to their generosity in providing their expertise and their time for the benefit of Maryland."
Andrew Ratner, a spokesman with the Maryland Department of Planning, characterized the event panel as “fairly loaded.”
“It doesn’t seem like a typical forum where you are getting a wide range of opinions—they set it up on one particular viewpoint,” he said. “I think some of the speakers’ area of expertise have nothing to do with Maryland.”
At least one member of the Maryland Department of Planning staff will be at the event and on the panel, said Simpson, who is among the organizers.
The panel also includes Wendell Cox, who is concerned about anti-sprawl policies and opposes densifying urban areas, saying it contributes to air pollution levels. Cox is a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
Ed Braddy, also on the panel, is the executive director of the American Dream Coalition, an organization based in Gainsville, FL, that opposes smart growth policies.
Simpson defended the panel members, noting they include George Frigon, whom he said was an internationally known wastewater specialist, and Patrick Moffitt, whom Simpson said served on Al Gore’s White House environmental technology panel.
“These people—to call them extremist—the people who say these things, I’ll just repeat: They don’t look. They do not check their facts,” Simpson said. “They are hard core partisans with nothing more than a vested interest in discrediting this board.”
Ratner said he is not certain if someone from PlanMaryland will be there, “but it is quite possible.”
Carroll County commissioners have said they won’t spend more than $10,000 to pay for the event, and they are in the process of raising money to defray most, if not all taxpayer costs, a strategy used for previous county events such as expos on health care and senior citizens, county officials said.
The forum is scheduled for noon Oct. 31 at the Pikesville Hilton, and has limited seating. Tickets cost $25.