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Maryland League of Conservation Voters: Climate Visionary Award

Location: Annapolis, MD

Carol [Browner], thank you for your leadership, thank you for your voice and thank you for everything that you continue to do with the Center for American Progress. We in Maryland like to think that we are the center of American progress. (Applause) It feels that way tonight, doesn't it?

It is so wonderful to be here with all of you. I've had such a flood of memories because of the things that we've been able to accomplish together--the important, life-giving work that we've been able to do together over these last seven years…

Let me thank a few people tonight before I trip down memory lane here. I want to thank Karla Raettig and also Tony Caligiuri. I also want to thank the tremendous work of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and all of the members of this O'Malley-Brown Administration. Over these last seven years--with your help, and with your support, and with your guidance, your encouragement, oftentimes your cajoling--they have been able to clear so many hurdles and do so many important things.

My brother, Peter O'Malley, is here with us tonight. Peter, thank you for everything you do. And his wife Mindy--thank you, Mindy for letting Peter play with us from time to time. (Laughter)

I know I speak for my brother when I say that some of the happiest moments of our childhood days were spent on the Eastern Shore when our dad would take us there. (Applause) We've got some Eastern Shore people here. Peter I think that you and I will always be able to look back with great pride on the things we did for the beauty of this place that our dad taught us to love and to value.

I also want to thank Gene Karpinski. Gene, it's great to have you here in Annapolis. And Bob Perciasepe, we're very proud of you and everything you're doing. Thank you, my friend.

I am very humbled to be standing in the company of somebody who has accomplished as much as my friend, Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh. Everything you've done as chair, Maggie, has lighted our way, so thank you. Also Dru Schmidt Perkins. Dru knew me when the only two endorsements I had in running for State Senate was the UAW and the league of Conservation Voters. (Applause) We were doing the blue-green coalition before it was cool, back in those days.

I also want to thank Speaker Mike Busch. Mike, I leaned over to Carol while you were speaking, and I said that I am so very, very lucky that I was able to serve alongside of you in the time I was able to serve the people of this State. (Applause)

The Wholeness of Our Work

So, here's the message.

The message is one of thanks. And a tremendous amount of humility in knowing that what we've accomplished, and this award that you give me tonight, is really a reflection of your work, and of the goodness of the people that I have been able to serve these years. Governor Glendening and Governor Hughes before him--these public servants, these servant leaders have carried this ball down the field. And we have made our Bay healthier. This year, the Bay showed that she was getting a little healthier rather than a little sicker.

We're inclined to say, "The Bay's health improved." But that Bay's health didn't just improve. You improved it--through individual, mindful, aware action--in concert with others--to reduce the nitrogen, the phosphorous, and the sedimentary flow into her rivers and her streams and her creeks. For that reason, you have made the Chesapeake Bay healthier. (Applause)

And what's more, ladies and gentlemen, even with the things that we have done--important, needed things that had to happen--as the health of the Bay improved, Maryland over the last 12 months also led the region in the rate of new jobs created.

Think about this. We were nowhere in terms of green jobs a few years ago. Now, we've grown green jobs at the fastest rate of any state in the country. More than an 18 percent increase just between 2010 and 2011.

Not only have you created the best schools in the country, not only have you achieved the highest median income in the country, not only have you achieved the fastest rate of new job creation of any state in the region--you have also managed to lead all of the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed not just in hopes and prayers for progress on the Bay, but you have taken action to achieve timely, measureable outputs. Actions measured over the landmass of this watershed so that we can actually improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. That's a big shift, and you've done that. (Applause)

We've made progress on our goals, and in some cases we have reached out goals ahead of schedule. I had my able staff print out the list, but the list is way too long to recite tonight. More importantly, it's not about the list, is it? It's about the wholeness of our work. It's about the understanding that as we make the Bay healthier, we also make our State a better and kinder, more caring place. We make it a more prosperous place.

This false, old-world view that it's an either-or between a healthier Bay or more jobs--either you're for the environment or you're for business--all of that stuff, all of that ideology that still spews out from our brothers and sisters in the once-proud party of Lincoln, is a sort of duality that no longer serves us. You're going to hear people spewing that stuff in this upcoming election too, retreading that same tired old message--even from some Democrats.

We have to become larger-minded than that.

Because the truth is, we cannot become more prosperous, if we are not more mindful of the other living systems upon which our prosperity depends.

What good is it for us to increase our consumption and our so-called productivity if we no longer have a Bay? If we no longer have air to breathe? If we no longer have clean water? If our children cannot walk through streams and see other living things?

We've done so many positive things over these last few years, but I would submit to you the most positive thing of all is to realize that all of these things are connected. It's not just about the Bay. It's not just about climate change. It's not just about reducing homicides and violent crime.

It's about doing all of those things together.

Life and Death Hard

None of this is easy. And all of this has entailed struggle. But, please--as we debate these issues, and as we wrestle with these issues, and as we revisit why it is we need to prevent stormwater runoff and the poison that runoff poses to the Bay--don't confuse a lack of knowledge with malice. A lot of our neighbors don't know that stormwater actually damages the Bay. They've been fed a whole line of stuff that some of their public servants wake up every morning, and man, the only thing we want to do is increase regulations and make people pay more.

But our neighbors are not malicious. They want to know.

Quite frankly, the best wind in our sails is really a more knowledgeable and a more mindful and a more aware populace.

That's why we worked so hard to pass environmental literacy for our schools and to integrate environmental literacy into all the other subjects they need to learn. It's why we've worked so hard to now expand and deepen that consciousness with Schoolshed, so that kids can actually explore the streams that run by their own schools and take on the responsibility of improving the health of those streams--over time--by expanding stream buffers, by planting Bay grasses and doing the things we know will improve the health of our rivers.

All of these things are connected. All of these things are hard. None of these things are easy. They all involve controversy. And you know what, it is hard… It is life and death hard.

We should consider ourselves lucky, frankly. Here in Maryland, we have often found ourselves at the center of the greatest movements, in the times of the greatest struggle. Those times that require a people really to stretch and to be able to hold the creative tension that allows our country to move forward.

Those times are here again.

Together we have to continue this life-giving and job-creating work to heal our planet and to slow the very real threat of climate change. We do that not by hoping, not by just wishing. We do that by acting. To increase our renewable portfolio standard. By imagining and creating a zero-waste future for our State. By moving to zero-emissions vehicles. By investing in our public transit systems. By planting more trees. By making good on our Region Greenhouse Gas Initiative commitments.

And in the process of doing those things we are going to create tens of thousands of jobs here in Maryland. (Applause)

In God We Trust

The liberating part about this work is this: No one else is going to do this for us.

We get to do it ourselves. (Laughter)

That is the role we play here, where the land and the water come together in such a life-giving way.

We have a planet to save and jobs to create.

The urgent transformation before us is not just about Maryland, which is what makes it so exciting.

We need to move from global economies of depletion to local economies of regeneration. (Applause)

That's why this is so important.

What we stand for is what we stand on.

Restoring the health of the Bay, and restoring the health of our democracy are one and the same work.

It's about better choices for better results.

And, yes, in God we trust.

In God we trust. (Applause)


Conclusion…I have become very fond of paddleboarding in this State.

It is a great sport for old people… (Laughter) because it challenges one's balance and it gets you out there in the middle of nature.

So Margaret McHale and Ashley Valis and John Griffin and Bob Summers and--some of our senators are here--Sen. Pinskey and Sen. Frosh: When I'm out there, I see all sorts of things when I'm alone on the board.

I see menhaden, and I see crabs, and I see oysters, and I see rockfish.

But when I look a little deeper into the water, I also see reflected back at me the eyes of each and every one of you. I see the hearts and the future of our children.

We are a river flowing.

There are so many people that have sacrificed so much more for what we have than we have yet been called upon to do.

We should consider it a privilege every day to wake up in this State, to call the Chesapeake our home.

In a special closing "dedication" to my new Chief of Staff and former Secretary of natural Resources, John Griffin--who asked for this--I leave you with this bit of local verse from Gilbert Byron.

"From Chesapeake men I come

These men a sun-tanned, quiet breed,

With eyes of English blue

And faces lined with many a watch of sunlit waters.

These men with cautious mouths and lazy strides;

Grizzled chinned, hip-booted, oil-skinned men.

These men, they fear the Chesapeake,

And yet they would not leave her.

Down to the Bay they go:

…They seek the imperial shad, the lowly crab,

The oyster, the weakfish, the turtle

The rockfish, the muskrat, the eel

The terrapin diamond-backed…

And food for their souls which they sometimes find.

In the calling of the wild duck,

In the mating of the King Fisher,

In the sloughing of the soft crab,

In the softness of the water's touch,

In the flight of the great blue heron,

In the sculling of the oar,

In the passing schools of fish,

In the belly of the sail,

In the hauling of the seine,

In the taste of oysters raw,

Or in the soaring fish-hawk's wing,

In the touch of southwest wind,

In the little waves that break,

In the surge against the prow,

In the cliffs of yellow clay

In the setting of the sun

In the quest of quiet harbor--

In the Chesapeake"


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