Blogs > HNN > A Death Knell for the Chesapeake Bay?

Feb 10, 2005 7:29 am

A Death Knell for the Chesapeake Bay?

As a resident of Maryland, I fully understand why President Reagan in 1984 called the Chesapeake Bay a “national treasure” and committed the nation to a “long necessary effort” to restore its health. Today the Bay is on life support and the environmental cuts in the Bush administration’s new budget are about to contravene the commitment that his Republican predecessor made twenty years ago.

According to a recent report by the independent Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel, “the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, is in peril.” The Report notes, “Research has singled out the primary cause of the Bay’s woes – excess nutrients from farms, wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, city streets, suburban lawns, and even the air.” It warns that “current efforts to correct these problems are underfunded and poorly coordinated” and that a “major financial investment” is needed to save the Bay.

Unfortunately, the Bush budget and other environmental policies are part of the problem, not the solution. The president’s budget slashes more than $40 million in funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, including “$32 million in loan for sewage system upgrades and $10 million in direct efforts to clean up the Bay.

These federal cutbacks are “really taking us backward,” said Roy Hoagland, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “If we want to reduce pollution, we need to put money into programs we know will reduce pollution, and this is taking money out of those solutions.”

More broadly, the 2006 Bush budget cuts about $500 million or nearly 6 percent of allocations for the Environmental Protection Agency, on top of a 5 percent cut already enacted for 2005. The Bush cutbacks target not only water quality programs, but also initiatives for land preservation and restoration, which also strike at the Bay

The administration has compounded its cutbacks on sewage treatment by pushing for new regulations that would authorize the release of inadequately treated sewage into America’s waterways during rainy days so long as it is “blended” with treated sewage.

The administration is also advocating new regulations that would substantially weaken efforts to control air pollution – as another source of contamination for the Bay. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Bush’s so-called “Clean Skies” legislation would “would delay and dilute cuts in power plants' sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollution that are required by the Clean Air Act.”

Other policies of the Bush administration reverse progress in restoring the environment. According to EPA data reported by the NRDC, the number of federal cases filed against companies charged with violating environmental laws declined by about 75 percent in the first three years of the Bush administration as compared to President Clinton’s last three years.

The administration has rejected the urgent call from scientists worldwide to act on global warming, with its potentially catastrophic effects on climate and sea levels worldwide. It has weakened programs under the Endangered Species Act that preserve critical wildlife habitat. And it is working to open pristine public lands – our commonly owned heritage – to exploitation by the energy and timber industries.

Hard choices need to be made in times of war and threats to the homeland. But the first causality of war should not be the environment on which our survival depends.

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John Reed Tarver - 2/14/2005

As a resident of Maryland, just what have you and your neighbors done to save Chesapeake Bay? If you and your neighbors take state action to clean up the bay, then just maybe, but no promises, other Americans will try to help. Here in Louisiana we have our own problems with Timbalier Bay, for example. And the vast Atchafalaya swamp (the nation's largest) needs help, too. Since orders in council during colonial times ruled Chesapeake Bay the exclusive property of Maryland, it seems you have inherited a certain responsibility to keep it safe. We wish you luck.