Guest Blog: Rebecca Ruggles on the Bay Watershed Agreement

What does it mean when a public entity holds a two hour public comment session and it is over in about an hour?  Not a good sign!

Those of us who went to speak at the Chesapeake Bay Program’s public session on the final draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement had time for reflection after the meeting.  It only took about an hour.  We had blocked from 10 to noon, and about a dozen of us did speak.  But as one commenter noted, “There should be people creating a traffic jam on Forest Drive this morning and standing in a line down that hallway.”

The reason they were not, we think, is because they know this Agreement is not worth their time.

What are its flaws?

Claudia Friedetzsky of Maryland Sierra Club asked the Management Board to add a focus on climate change and measurable goals related to climate change adaptation.  Failing to mention such a massive threat showed the Bay Program lagging behind scientists and the public consensus.  We need your leadership on this, she said.

Jill Witkowski from the Choose Clean Water Coalition explained why senior Chesapeake Bay Scientists and policymakers developed an alternative, the Citizen’s Bay Agreement with 25 action steps.

Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network asked the Commission to address toxics, citing human and environmental threats and the full documentation of the toxic contaminants in the Bay, from the EPA’s December 2012 report.

I added that the Maryland Environmental Health Network has recently done a brief assessment of best practices for reducing pesticides in urban waterways.  “The experts agree we need more information, and the field is thin.  The goal you rejected last summer is so reasonable and minimal.  MdEHN asks that you reconsider and add this to the Agreement.”

Then I read a synopsis of the very simple proposed addition they had considered last summer and rejected: “Assess research to improve knowledge of effects of contaminants by 2015 so future strategies can be considered.”

Such an extremely modest thing to propose – but shot down as not needed!

Perhaps the most striking assessment of the Final Draft of the Bay Watershed Agreement, which is supposed to establish a basis for collaboration across the political boundaries of watershed, was given by Ray Sullivan of Save Your Annapolis Neck.

I didn’t write down his exact words but his point was powerful.  “Why are no real estate developers, no one from agriculture or the chemical industry here today commenting on this agreement?  It’s because they already got everything they want.  They know this is a toothless agreement!”

Next time when I’m sitting through a long hearing or waiting my turn to speak on a long list, I’ll remember this experience at the Management Board meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  Better to be part of a noisy throng fighting to get the future right, than working on something that has no chance of making a difference.


rebeccaRebecca Ruggles is Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. She was formerly Director of Special Projects at Baltimore Medical System (BMS), a community health system serving Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Rebecca consults to the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers as the coordinator of the Green Funders affinity group. She sits on the Board of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (formerly Chesapeake Covenant Community), a network of congregations and people of faith pursuing better stewardship of our natural world. She is a member of the Health Care Sustainability Leadership Council and an active member of the Greater Baltimore Asthma Alliance.



Guest Blog: 3 New Year’s Resolutions by Joelle Novey

The following is the first (of hopefully many) guest posts!  We see our blog as a platform for exploring ideas and are excited to share this space with our grantees.  If you are interested in submitting a blog, please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken at

We would like to mention that the views of the guest blog do not speak on behalf of the Town Creek Foundation.

A Modest Proposal: Three New Year’s Resolutions for Our Organizations

An invitation to pursue our green ends through slightly greener means.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye
and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” Luke 6:41

I am standing in line outside the EPA on a weekday morning, waiting with dozens of environmental advocates to go in and testify on behalf of the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution. All down the long line, in almost every hand, is a single-use disposable coffee cup. Inside the hearing room, four earnest EPA employees receive our testimony, from behind a row of plastic water bottles and disposable cups. At a press conference organized that afternoon by a major environmental organization, volunteers pick up box lunches provided by the organization, many with ham and beef sandwiches.

A group of national environmental groups trying to stop the Keystone XL pipeline gathers for a meeting at a table (strewn, again, with disposable cups), and plan a “fly-in” of people from across the country to testify against the pipeline.

There is a row of disposable cups, too, at the opening panel at a state governor’s climate conference, in front of a panel including a climate activist, a scientist, and the governor himself. For lunch, attendees are treated to a lunch including bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

Does any of this matter?

Of course, we know disposable cutlery and bottled water produce garbage and disinvest the public from public water sources. We know eating lower on the food chain reduces our carbon footprint, and that air travel and other fossil-fueled transit is warming the climate.

But our organizations have so much work to do and so few people to do it in such a short time. We just try to get our work done as cheaply and conveniently as possible, and tell ourselves that our organizations’ direct day-to-day contribution to environmental problems is small.

In any case, the work we are doing is so much more important.

As a climate activist in the nation’s capital, I have been honored to participate in coalitions of strategic, passionate environmental activists who are doing critical work on national and state-wide challenges. Being part of that work is an honor, and its real and lasting consequences for our environment far exceed the environmental impact of the garbage we generated, the food we ate, or the flights we took while doing it. Even when we fly in people to speak out against the Keystone pipeline, and feed them red meat on disposable dishes, we’re doing far, far more good for our climate than harm.

But as a climate activist who works with religious communities, I’ve concluded that, in 2014, I want us to be reflective not only about the good work we are doing, but about how we are doing it.

All spiritual traditions invite us to bring our hearts and personal behavior into alignment with our highest purposes. Wisdom from our Christian neighbors invites us to stop ignoring the “plank” in our own eyes.

The congregations I work with aren’t choosing between greening their facilities and taking action, between serving fair trade organic coffee in reusable mugs at fellowship hour, on the one hand, or speaking out in local clean energy campaigns on the other. They are doing both; one is a spiritual practice that deepens and reinforces their commitment to the other.

What might our environmental organizations have to gain if we took their example this year?

All of our groups, in one way or another, are asking people to imagine a more sustainable world in which they will live differently. And people weren’t just irked by hypocricy in the time of the Gospels; they continue to by hyper-sensitive to perceived hypocricy by those who are asking them to change. If our organizations imply that it’s too much trouble for us to even try to bring our own mugs or wash our dishes, it compromises our credibility when we ask the public to be open to make changes with the environment in mind.

And greener choices will enhance the impact that our organizations have in the world. In almost every category of organizational purchasing and operations, there are green alternatives and wonderful green businesses offering to sell them. Any one environmental organization’s purchasing decisions are small, but they are decisions made about donated funds that were given to advance the environmental mission of our groups. When we spend organizational funds on greener products and services, we’re extending the reach of our donors’ dollars by having them do green work twice: once in the programming we spend them on, and again in the greener vendors with whom we spent them.

We have a lot of other (important!) things to do in 2014. We’re not all going to be able to make sustainability a core value in all of our organizations’ purchasing and practices tomorrow.

So I want to offer three ideas.

Just three. Below, I’m proposing three straightforward ways every environmental organization, including mine, can “green” our practices in 2014, regardless of how much energy or staff time we have to commit to more substantive changes:

1. Avoid bottled water. Minimize disposables. (Especially on panels!)

There are many ways to reduce waste in our organizations, but if you have to pick just one, ditch plastic water bottles. Single use plastic water bottles contain water that isn’t any cleaner or safer than tap water, creates mountains of plastic garbage, costs thousands of times more than tap water, and accelerates corporate privatization of public resources. (Click here for more information)

Many environmental organizations organize panels with speakers, and then stock the panel table with plastic water bottles. The result is that every photo and every video made of the presentation conveys not only the environmental message the speakers wish to send, but also models using plastic water bottles to everyone who is listening.

If it feels daunting to eliminate plastic water bottles from an entire conference or other large event, start with speakers and panels. It would be a small but meaningful step if every environmental organization decided, starting now, that any panels they organize will provide cups and a pitcher of tap water to their speakers in this highly visible forum, so the important environmental messages we’re trying to convey will not be compromised by plastic garbage.

Given a little advance planning, many organizations can shift away from disposables to reusable dishes in the office as well, by stocking the cupboard with a set of mugs and plates. ( are a great source of affordable reusables tableware.) Many of our colleagues may have extra mugs, cutlery, or cloth napkins at home to donate to the cause, or we can assemble a previously-loved set at a second-hand store. And if someone at work already has a home compost bin, then establishing a bin in the workplace that they take home can be a way of reducing food waste from our organizations.

But for now, if we’re planning a panel, let’s put a pitcher filled with tap water and four reusable cups on the table.

2. Treating folks to lunch? Order vegetarian.

There are so many ways to improve the environmental impact of our food choices, and people can be very sensitive about being told what to eat. But our organizations frequently provide free meals to staff, or meeting attendees, or groups of volunteers. And an easy way to reduce the climate impact of the food our organizations purchase — by nearly a third (28.7%) — is simply to leave meat off the menu.

Our organizations could take this much further, of course: we could strive to choose food that is organic and local; to select fair-trade certified items; and even to minimize animal products like eggs or dairy (a vegan meal has a 41.7% lower climate footprint).

But this second resolution doesn’t ask anyone in our offices to learn a lot about food sourcing, or even to work with a different restaurant or caterer. It just requires an organizational policy that food paid for by the organization doesn’t include meat or fish. Planning the menu for a conference? Ask the caterer about vegetarian menus. Ordering pizza for phonebankers? Leave off the pepperoni. Even people who do eat meat themselves are unlikely to complain if they’re being treated to a delicious meal that happens to be vegetarian. They might not even notice!

3. Booking flights? Buy carbon offsets.

By far, the thing most of our organizations do that has the single greatest direct carbon footprint is paying for air travel, for our employees or our volunteers. Many times, there simply is no other practical way to get people where they need to go to advance our environmental work in the time available for them to do so. But I invite all environmental organizations to commit to making some kind of financial recognition of the climate impact of the plane travel they are purchasing.

If every environmental organization paid, say, $12 a ton to offset the climate impact of air travel, it would provide a slight financial incentive for the organization to consider alternatives for short trips, and, even if the organization did just as much flying people around, such a policy would direct a stream of funds to clean energy projects in proportion to our air travel.

Our organizations can do our own research into offset organizations that are reputable and certified, and whose carbon-reducing projects are most aligned with our missions. (I personally offset my travel with Native Energy).

This resolution, too, doesn’t ask our organizations to do anything all that differently, for now. But it would be significant for every environmental organization to begin taking an accounting, as a matter of policy, of the climate impact of our air travel. There are many calculators online, one of which is here.

May 2014 be the year we achieve our green ends through slightly greener means.

Maybe your organization already does some of these things; maybe you have some ideas to add to the list (please do so below!)

It’s the right thing to do, it will align our hearts with our work, it will enhance our credibility, it will extend our donors’ impact, and none of these three suggestions are hard or expensive. Over time, it might lead to even more, but in any case, it’s a worthwhile place to start.

It’s a brand new year, folks! We’ve got a planet to protect, and a plank in our eye. Let’s do this.


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Joelle Novey is the director of Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA), which works alongside dozens of fellow environmental organizations in the Maryland Climate Coalition, DC Environmental Network, the Maryland Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, and the Virginia Climate Action Campaign.

*Application Process Changes*

Over the last year we have surveyed our grantees to generate feedback on our application process.  We would like to thank everyone who took the time to fill out our survey and participate in our focus groups.

Our survey responses reinforced our beliefs in the redundancy between the Letter of Inquiry and proposal, the idea that a “one size fits all” proposal as an obstacle for groups, as well as the most useful part of the application process lying in our one-on-one conversations with applicants.

In response to this feedback, we will be implementing the following changes to our application process.We will retain the Letter of Inquiry template in its current form.  Unfortunately, we cannot leave the LOI without some sort of text restraint, as it becomes a capacity issue for our grant software system.  The LOI deadlines will remain the same.  Spring 2014: November 8, 2013     Summer 2014: March 7, 2014

We will review the submitted LOI’s and identify those applicants with fair to good prospects for receiving Town Creek funding.  We will schedule one-on-one conversations with these applications to learn more about their proposed work.  These conversations will help us to focus our subsequent requests for additional information and will result in a set of questions and observations to which we will ask the applicants to submit written responses.  Along with any relevant budget information, these written responses will constitute the full proposal.  We will no longer require applicants to complete a standard proposal template.

For the Spring 2014 Grant Cycle

  • The invitations following the November 8th LOI deadline will be issued on or before November 22nd.
  • Conversations will take place between December 2nd and December 20th
  • Written responses will be due 2 weeks after our meeting.

For the Summer 2014 Grant Cycle

  • The invitations following the March 7th LOI deadline will be issued on or before March 21st.
  • Conversations will take place between March 31st and April 18th.
  • Written responses will be due 2 weeks after our meeting.

Following receipt of these written responses we will initiate follow up conversations for further clarification if and as appropriate.

We believe these changes will make more efficient use of everyone’s time and effort, without compromising the integrity of our review process.

If you have any additional questions, please contact our Program Assistant, Megan Milliken at or 410-763-8171 ext. 14


#GivingTuesday was created last year on the heals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  It is a national day to kick off the giving season and is a great opportunity to raise donation support before the end of the year.  New York’s 92nd Street Y catalyzed the first #GivingTuesday last year.  This year #GivingTuesday will take place on December 3rd.

On the first #GivingTuesday more than 2,500 partners in all 50 state participated.  Donations increased by more than 50%.

The 2nd annual #GivingTuesday is less than 60 days away.  Now is the time to state planning if you want to participate in this national day of giving.  The key is to start building an online buzz now and utilize the resources providing on the #GivingTuesday website to develop an effective online presence.

I encourage everyone to participate and bring this national day to their local membership.  Lets bring the #GivingTuesday buzz to Maryland!

Happy Fundraising!

Additional Resources:


Join the #ForwardOnClimate Rally

FOCposter3A copyThe largest climate rally in history will take place on February 17, 2013., with a number of partner organizations, is coordinating the Forward On Climate Rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to urge President Obama to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and take immediate action on climate in his next four years.

There are a number of volunteers in Maryland coordinating bus transportation.

If you are interested in attending the rally, please contact Megan Milliken ( so you can get connected with the appropriate bus coordinator.

What: The largest climate rally in history.

Where: The National Mall in Washington, D.C., with a march to the White House

When: February 17, 2013, Noon



We’ve Only Just Begun: 2012 First Annual Environmental Justice and Environmental Health Disparities Symposium for Maryland and Washington, DC

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, University of Maryland’s School of Public Health hosted the First Annual Environmental Justice and Environmental Health Disparities Symposium for Maryland and Washington, DC.  Dr. Sacoby Wilson spearheaded the effort which brought together several hundred of the region’s faith leaders, public health and environmental experts and students, community activists, and social and environmental justice advocates.  Finally, an opportunity for dialogue about the environmental health of our region’s most vulnerable communities.

On our way to the conference, early on a Saturday morning (with a toddler in tow) we wondered who else would show.   During the opening plenary session, the huge auditorium seemed to dwarf a modest, but dedicated crowd.  Those who managed arrive in time for the opening session were treated to an upbeat and uplifting message from Cassie Meador, artistic director of Dance Exchange.  In Spring 2012, Meador walked 500 miles from her home in Washington, DC through the hills and mountains of Maryland and Virginia, ending at the site of a strip mine in West Virginia, unearthing stories old and new.  Her journey was intended to help build a deeper understanding of the path that natural resources take from the mountain to the electrical outlets in our homes.  Meador’s work is a refreshing reminder of the great potential of art and stories to engage people and communities in environmental health and justice work.

Dr. Wilson framed the day with the ideas of “make space” and “take space.” He encouraged, that if we were someone who tended to speak a lot, to make space and allow for someone else’s voice to be added to the conversation.  Likewise, if we were someone who tended to shy away from participating in discussions, open up and add our voice to the mix.  It was really great to have this as a frame for not only our participation in the Symposium, but our interactions outside of the event as well.

By lunchtime, the place was literally packed wall-to-wall with a great diversity of people buzzing with energy and new connections.  Vernice Miller-Travis, Vice-chair of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, gave the keynote address on “Environmental Justice and Environmental Health Disparities: Issues, Challenges, and Solutions.”  What a great opportunity to hear from someone who has spent so much time dedicated to environmental justice issues.

The symposium created a space for so many new connections to be made.  We met faith leaders, community health and hunger advocates, organizers, experts from EPA and other government agencies, academics, and students.  It was great to see a few old friends in the crowd as well, including several Town Creek Foundation grantees who presented on panels (Food and Water Watch, Maryland Pesticide Network, Center for Livable Future, and Maryland Environmental Health Network).

There were an overwhelming number of concurrent sessions –too many interesting topics to choose from –ranging from environmental justice and water issues in the Chesapeake Bay to how recently enacted Federal and Maryland health laws can be implemented to achieve environmental justice and health equity.

The session on connecting the science of disproportionate impacts to environmental justice law aimed at addressing the question: if science is advancing, why are environmental justice communities still being disproportionately impacted?  Environmental justice was equated to turning around a battleship; it is done in incremental steps.  We were reminded that this goes beyond changing the political will of today, but requires a commitment to longevity, even the most obviously changes still took decades to achieve (e.g., Clean Water Act).  Decisions and actions do not change just because we know something.  We have to build momentum from the ground up and remain committed to the longevity of the cause in order to really start turning this battleship around.

The food justice session brought to light the complex issues raised by industrial agriculture and the compounding impacts on communities directly impacted by pollution caused by those industries and those indirectly impacted through food availability.  The session linked in the health and nutrition of urban women and girls, and the challenges presented by hunger, particularly for children.   Certainly the issues and topics brought up were far more complex than could be addressed in a 75- minute conference session.  What was striking was the interconnectedness of the issues and problems –such as how industrial agriculture impacts community health not only in the places where food is grown through pollution, but also in the ways that the end products are delivered to consumers, frequently in the form of unhealthy, processed food available at local quick stops with few or no alternative options close by.

What made the biggest impression on us was the rich, diverse, and energetic universe of people doing important work who clearly need a network.  The pent up need for connectivity was unmistakable.  This symposium clearly only scratched the surface.  And, this symposium was focused mainly on highlighting environmental health and justice disparities.  Can you imagine what the conversation will be like when we start tackling the solutions?  This is just the beginning of a critically important dialogue that is desperately needed to connect and support the people doing vital work to build greater environmental and social equity in our Chesapeake Bay communities.



Today is National Food Day!  Food Day is a national celebration and day of awareness around the need for a more sustainable, healthy, and affordable food system.  Our current food system is unsustainable, are large pollution source and emitter of greenhouse gases.

The ultimate goal for this day is to unify the food movement and push for and improve our nation’s food policies.

Until a few days ago, I was unaware of the real issues surrounding our food system.  The next time you pick up your groceries at your nationwide, chain grocery store, think about where your food is coming from and what it has gone through to be conveniently available to you year long.

Do me a favor?  Take it one step further and think about how convenient it is to have a grocery store at your disposal at all.   You may have the luxury to drive whatever distance to your favorite grocery store, but there are some people who are not.  There are areas across the country identified as “food deserts” who have little to no access to adequate food to support a healthy diet.  These are also areas that are typically populated by numerous fast food restaurants.  The Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University is currently working on mapping this issues for the state of Maryland.  No community should be a victim of food deserts, but it is a sad reality of the system we operate it.

One last favor?  Tell me, do you think it is fair  that farmers, those responsible for growing the food our nation and our world, depends on should depend on food stamps?  Because I don’t.  The ideal family farm we like to envision is not the family farm of today and some farm families are forced to rely on food stamps.  Our food system is controlled by industrial agricultural systems.  There are a number of myths floating around in regards to our food system.  Anne Lappe addresses these myths in her film “Food Mythbusters: Do We Really Need Industrial Agriculture to Feed the World?

If we begin to focus locally, and begin shifting our food purchases, thereby creating a space and market for small, family farms to make a living we could begin transforming the food system to a more sustainable model.  This cannot happen over night, but if we focus one community at a time, we could begin seeing a real difference.


Before there was an environmental movement…

…there was one brave woman and her very brave book.  – 1999 New York Times magazine, on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore County where perfectly manicured lawns were (and still are) the norm.  My lawn was regularly treated with pesticides.  Once the lawn had been sprayed we had to remain off the grass for at least 24-48 hours.  At the time, pesticide treatment went on without question.  In retrospect I am appalled by how slow I was to realize the impact that practice could have on my health in the long run.  I mean seriously, how did I or anyone else in my family not think of what it could mean for our health, especially since we had to remain off of the lawn days after initial treatment?

Rich, green and perfectly manicured lawns are almost a societal non-negotiable.  To achieve that expectation we spray tons of pesticides on our lawns to create that perfect societal image.  There is a tremendous disconnect or false belief that a product that is meant to kill small insects would have no residual impact on humans.  Let me me just say – the dose does not make the poison.

Pesticides are meant to kill and have a residual and accumulative impact in the ecosystem.  Just because we are not the “tiny bug” the pesticide is intended for does not mean we are immune to their impacts after years of exposure.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought that issue to light in 1962 and generated public awareness and dialogue around the impact of pesticides in our ecosystems.  September 27, 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and although there is still a lot of work to be done, there is some great work emerging throughout the state on environmental health related issues.  The Maryland Pesticide Network, a group that has been around for a number of years, has been fighting on pesticide related issues in Maryland.  Additionally, the Maryland Environmental Health Network, a newly formed network in the state, is poised to bring valuable support to the fights against pesticides and other environmental health issues.  These are two groups to keep an eye out for this fall as they will be important players throughout the upcoming Maryland legislative session.

If there is any year for the environmental community to really dive deep into pesticide related issues, let it be during the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring.


Tomorrow marks the 5th annual Chesapeake Film Festival!  The CFF team has worked hard to create a great weekend filled with thought provoking films, discussions, and fun.  

Town Creek is sponsoring four environmental films which will be shown on Saturday, September 22nd.  We also have coordinated two panels to accompany our films on environmental advocacy and alternative economic metrics. 

If you have time this weekend the Chesapeake Film Festival is a must!



An Eye on the Glass Half Full: Part III

Last month I was privileged to meet Rich Maranto and Will Morrow from Friends of Frederick County, a nonprofit organization in Frederick County focused on sustainable communities and land use issues.    They have partnered with Chesapeake Commons to develop a smart phone app that allows volunteers to upload on-site water quality data of local streams.

If you are interested in learning more or getting involved click here!