Volume 14, Issue 29 ~ July 20 - July 26, 2006


Bay Health Update: Promises Unkept

If you hadn’t heard that the Chesapeake Bay restoration was failing, last week provided one of those a-ha! moments when things become painfully clear.

At a gathering of Bay state political leaders down in Richmond, Gov. Robert Ehrlich and his counterparts acknowledged that their plan for a federal rescue of the Chesapeake had fallen by the wayside. Ehrlich blamed shifting priorities in Washington.

Meanwhile, in testimony in Washington that drew little attention, the Government Accountability Office delivered a withering assessment of the federal Chesapeake Bay Program, which is housed within the Environmental Protection Agency.

Speaking in front of a House Appropriations subcommittee, GAO natural resources director Anu Mittal recalled some of the sad facts of an earlier GAO investigation:

• The federal government has a slew of measures (more than 100) to assess trends but no means to integrate them in a way that tells us whether we’re making progress;

• The annual State of the Chesapeake Bay report — the main way of reporting the Bay’s health — has been unreliable in part because the people who write it are the same people responsible for making progress. That’s why it was falsely rosy earlier this decade.

• Despite spending of $3.7 billion on the Bay in the past decade from all sources, never has there been a coordinated restoration strategy.

In short, said the Congress investigation, we’ve been misled by people who were incompetent and worse.

So what are we going to do? We’re fortunate that this is a political year and that Ehrlich and his Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, along with candidates for Congress, the Maryland General Assembly and county offices in Anne Arundel and Calvert, have an obligation to submit themselves to scrutiny about their plans for Chesapeake Bay.

We’re applauding new approaches like that of professor Howard Ernst, who in his Blue Crab Candidate project is closely and impartially examining the environmental credentials and pronouncements of challengers.

In our own political coverage, we’re trying to get beyond the platitudes by asking this new crowd of office-seekers just what they intend to do to promote the Chesapeake’s health: What are your Bay credentials? How will you prevent unwise development? Why are you taking contributions from polluters? What ever happened to Smart Growth? How can we truly measure progress? What is your plan to reduce Bay-choking nitrogen pollution? What is your Plan B? How will you hold the bureaucrats’ feet to the fire so we’re not duped again? In this climate of vicious partisanship, how will you work toward solutions?

These are among the questions we’ll be asking. We suspect you’ll have a few questions of your own.

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