Burton on the Bay
Two Tall Orders
Our resilient Bay is trying to do its part, but are we doing ours?
If we would just stop polluting it, the Bay would save itself.
Howard Ernst, author of Chesapeake Bay Blues
Two tall orders. Can we stop polluting the Chesapeake? And if we do, can the Bay self-cure? Lets hope so on both counts. Were at the point where practically anything is up for grabs.
This has been a horrendous year for the Bay; severe runoffs have carried everything imaginable into its waters. Dead water masses with little or no oxygen stretch for a hundred miles or more. Marylands highest judicial body, the Court of Appeals, in a four to three decision, has ruled that municipalities have the burden of proof against property owners wanting special variances to develop their property.
In another year of blue crab woes, we made exceptions in the early season to allow their harvest by watermen in the lower Bay for a spell. Still tied up in courts is the battle to cull mute swan populations that feast on the Bays aquatic vegetation so important to the health of the Chesapeake and its inhabitants. And it seems were about to gamble on the questionable introduction of Asian oysters to the Chesapeake.
Thats just a sampling of whats going wrong in the Bay. In this corner there is the real concern that perhaps were already leaving the doctoring of our beloved estuary to none other than itself.
Are You Listening, Bob Ehrlich?
Harking back to those words of Howard Ernst, something is missing. On our part, we show no inclination to effectively stop pollution, degradation and, with crabs and perhaps other species, overharvesting. Lets not forget that both Virginia and Maryland played poor-mouth and put to rest the Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee for lack of funding from each jurisdiction.
Our resilient (to a point) Bay is trying to do its part, but are we doing ours? If you know the answer its not a question.
But, seeing as not infrequently I like to go beyond obvious answers, I dialed up Ernst to fathom his thinking on not just the status of the Chesapeake but also the status of remedial efforts to turn things around now that we have a new governor and of course, new plans and promises.
I go along completely with Ernsts opening statement, about which he said, you can quote me on this. It reflects crucial insight into the inevitable consequences about what we in Maryland, Virginia and the rest of the states of the Bay watershed continue to do (and not do). Heres what the professor of political environment at the Naval Academy had to say. Are you listening, Bob Ehrlich?
The laws of chemistry and marine biology did not change when Robert Ehrlich became governor. We must control nutrients or the Bay wont recover.
Look, it had to be said. And methinks it should be the byword of environmentalists for the next 40 months, a slogan to put things in perspective. The laws of chemistry and marine biology are destined to rule, to decide the state of the Bay regardless of what administration is in the catbirds seat. Its basic science.
Killing the Bay We Love
As Ernst also said, in modern society, with all its goods and services, there are bound to be unwanted byproducts, which got me to thinking. Why must so many of those byproducts be a detriment to our Chesapeake. And, more importantly, where is the leadership to make us aware of them? To lead us in a vigorous campaign to bite the bullet, to hell with budgetary concerns, inconveniences and fears of stepping on the toes of business, local communities, politicians, individuals who live on the water and Bay users, both recreational or commercial.
Consider the words of Oscar Wilde who in the Ballad of Reading Gaol wrote, Yet each man kills the thing he loves, by each let this be heard. Though Wilde was writing of a prisoner destined to the gallows for murdering the woman he loved, those two lines sum up the scenario on the Chesapeake these days.
We all love the Bay; who will deny that? But do we respect the Bay? Do we grant it its needs? Of course not. We tend to consider it big and vibrant enough that what we do individually, or what our community does, can and will be neutralized by its billions of gallons of water. Before modern society with all its goods and services and unwanted byproducts, perhaps this was true. But no longer.
Bay Champion Needed
Pardon me if I missed something, but I cant recall one instance yet in the still short reign of Bob Ehrlich when, on an issue involving the opportunity or necessity to crack down on those who misuse the Bay, he proclaimed a resounding No! End of discussion.
I voted for him, hopeful that he was one of those unique Republicans who, while practicing fiscal responsibility, would also be aware of environmental problems and willing to do something about them. Weve had other environmentally friendly GOPers the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon (who gave us the EPA), Ted McKeldin and U.S. Sen. Charles Mac Mathias.
I dont want to make the environment a partisan issue, but I got chills when I noted recently that Ehrlich said he needs time to decide whether to join the lawsuit being taken up by neighboring states to challenge EPAs latest ruling allowing managers of coal-fired power plants and other facilities whose air pollution comes our way to make big renovations without installing modern pollution controls.
Perhaps its as the guv said: Were non-traditional. We want to read the ruling first. It sounds reasonable, and lets fervently hope this is the reason, not reluctance to buck a fellow Republican in the White House.
It seems obvious that air pollution carrying nitrogen and other toxins from the Midwest effects our troubled Chesapeake Bay. Just another straw, one of which could break the camels back. The Ehrlich Administrations consideration of this and so many other environmental issues bears scrutiny.
Farmers whose fertilizers and poultry and livestock droppings find their way into the Bay, watermen who want to catch more to keep their livelihoods viable, hard-pressed communities whose waste waters find their way into the Bay, industrial plants that say they cant afford the latest in pollution controls and so many others who do disservice to our Bay deserve to be heard. But there can be no other bottom line than what each action means to the Chesapeake in the long run.
If you think Maryland is in a financial bind now due to the irresponsible spending of Parris Glendening and his likes, think of the fiscal obligations if the Bay deteriorates to the point that it cant heal itself even if we belatedly cease polluting it. They dont make enough slot machines to pay that freight.
Check It Out
Incidentally, Ernsts no-nonsense Chesapeake Bay Blues of 203 pages is priced at $22.95, and published by Rowman & Littlefield. You can check it out on the web: ChesapeakeBayBlues.com
Maybe you might want to send a copy to Bob Ehrlich at the Governors Mansion in Annapolis. Maybe, just maybe, it isnt too late. The guv appears to be a sensible and practical leader, and a word to the wise is sometimes sufficient. Enough said