Volume XI, Issue 46 ~ November 13-19, 2003

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Sinking Bay Health Calls Us to Arms

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s sixth annual report card spelling out the Bay’s declining health had the familiar ring of an old disco tune: It was a hit once, but now it sounds like elevator music.

That’s because so many of us who should care deeply have become numbed to perennial news about lifeless, murky waters short on oysters, crabs and the other hallmarks of a healthy estuary.

The grade of 27 (out of 100) is all the more depressing because we’ve listened since the 1980s to airy pronouncements from governments about restoration plans, nitrogen-removal goals and enough multi-state promises to fill a small dumpster.

But with the exception of rockfish renewal, we’ve seen almost nothing in the way of improvement. Should we be resigned to let the decline continue? Will our grandchildren see signs telling them that the Bay is not safe to enter? Is there anything that can be done?

Identifying culprits is an essential beginning, and the Foundation did some of that by pointing out that about 20 percent of the Bay-choking nitrogen is pouring from sewage treatment plants — even though there is technology available to scrub those emissions clean.

It’s like we’re toting around old rotary dial machines in an era of digital telephones.

But the Bay has more saboteurs: the developers finding a friendly ear in government these days and the polluters enjoying historic rollbacks in Clean Air Act rules.

If another one-third of the Bay’s nitrogen pollution comes from the air, as we are being told, shouldn’t we be outraged about the Bush administration’s cancellation last month of the requirement that hundreds of the nation’s dirtiest coal-burning utilities and factories must install modern pollution control equipment before expanding their operations?

We’re not saying get partisan; Democrats have failed us, too. What we are saying is get mad — and understand that the only way to reverse the Bay’s decline is to develop the political will to succeed.

That means, among other things, rejecting out of hand the limp response from federal officials that the Bay’s health could be even worse. It means getting outraged when you hear that the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania agreed this week to cut by more than half a previous goal of planting more than 25,000 buffer strips to staunch the flow of nitrogen pollution into the Bay.

It means demanding that Chesapeake Bay be able to enjoy the kinds of billion-dollar restoration plans that our government provides the Everglades.



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Last updated November 13, 2003 @ 2:28am.