Volume 13, Issue 30 ~ July 29 - August 3, 2005

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Where We Live
by Steve Carr

Chaos Theory
Strange Bay-fellows at the cutting edge of doing nothing

The environmental news these last few weeks has been zany, like somebody put something in the water. Might these oddities be connected in some mysterious way?

The first surprise was the AP headline “Greenpeace To Float into Menhaden Bay Debate.” Greenpeace’s appearance on the Bay was noted by Ronnie Jett, a member of the Northumberland County Board of Supervisors and owner of a seafood business in Reedville, Virginia, who’d seen strangers taking pictures and launching inflatable boats near his restaurant.

Greenpeace landed in Reedville because Houston-based Omega Protein employs 250 natives to turn menhaden baitfish into slimy goo that ends up as animal feed and an ingredient in various health supplements.

But menhaden have been feeding the Bay’s predator fish — blues and stripers — for eons, thus making them the Bay’s key indicator species. The Bay’s food chain depends on giant schools of these bite-sized, little silver-sided dinner rolls. Their numbers are at an all time low.

The large commercial fishing operations, like the one out of Reedville, have been harvesting menhaden like there was no tomorrow. Now the Greenpeace troops are going to try and shut them down.

Weirder Still
The news gets weirder still.

Now comes an e-mail from Mike Tidwell, the respected director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Mike and several other environmental activists were camped out in Lafayette Park across from the White House with their laptops, fasting for “three full days” to spread the word that America’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is creating a climate crisis that will doom the planet. President George W. Bush was out of town in Scotland at the time, but I’m guessing that a little weekend fasting probably wasn’t going to change this nation’s energy policy even if he’d been around.

Speaking of energy, the Environmental Protection Agency sent me a snappy news release heralding their new strategy for dealing with the airborne chemical bombardment of the Bay each day. They are working closely with the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the mayor of Washington to form the Interstate Air Quality Council to, they say, “streamline planning to meet new federal standards for ozone and fine particulates in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.”

If you think this effort sounds a lot like fasting in front of the White House, you might be right. This new group is going to collaborate with the Metropolitan Washington Air Council, which has been on the cutting edge of doing nothing to improve our region’s air quality for many years now.

EPA has also signed the final PM2.5 Precursor Rule, which requires the Baltimore area to have its “conformity determination” approved by the federal government no later than next April. I am encouraged to see that if we can’t reduce the tons of wind-blown and storm-laced nitrogen, ammonia, sulfur oxides and volatile organic compounds entering the Chesapeake each year, then we can at least create a new muddle-fuddle language that no one understands but makes it sound like we are actually saving the Bay.

Pay Up
Just when I was feeling like the world’s gone crazy, up popped Colleen Kelleher, a WTOP reporter, with an interesting story about how recreational boaters are willing to pay for better water quality. It turns out that people who own sailboats are willing to fork over exactly $93.26 a year. Power boaters who keep their boats in the water year round will pay $77.98, followed by the folks who haul their boats around on trailers at $30.25. I’m not sure what this means, or where the experts came up with these down-to-the-last-penny numbers, but it’s clear from this study that recreational boaters see a link between fishing and dirty water. And that’s encouraging.

Poor water quality and sick fish are now part of our daily lives here in Chesapeakeville. But recent reports — you’ve seen the pictures in the papers and on the news — about crabs with multiple claws, and crabs that are part male and female, have got the scientists scratching their collective heads.

There’s a connection among these recent events. Air quality impacts water quality, the fish get sick, over-harvesting knocks down reeling species — then people slowly notice that something’s wrong. The next thing you know, Greenpeace is there with their banners and Zodiacs; you’ve got enviros starving themselves in front of the White House; government studies and commissions kick into high gear; strangely mutated creatures surfacing — while our leaders go fishing for more tax revenue.

So, tell me, how much are you willing to pay to save the Bay?

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