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Volume 16, Issue 45 - November 6 - November 12, 2008
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Where We Live
by Steve Carr

2010 or Sue!

Can a lawsuit save the Chesapeake 2010 Agreement?

To sue or not to sue? That is the question.

The answer came last week from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a letter of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to meet the requirements of the Chesapeake 2010 Agreement — signed by the feds and the governors of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the mayor of Washington — way back when 2010 looked like light years away and the politicians figured it was going to be someone else’s mess to clean up.

Environmental agreements are like Indian treaties. You have a big party, serve lots of fresh seafood, pass around the peace pipe, sign away the future and the past — then go ahead with business as usual.

We Know, But …

The business of the Bay has always been the relentless pursuit of money, and we all share the blame for where it has led. Pointing fingers isn’t going to ever make it any better.

I haven’t crabbed in three years. Most of my friends who grew up along the Severn haven’t, either. We are ashamed of what the river has been turned into.

In August, when water quality always gets a bit funky, Spa Creek looked like a sewer pond. Fish kills were an almost everyday occurrence on every river. No one in their right mind went swimming after a rain storm because of all the nasty chemicals flushed off the land.

For the past 30 years, we have labeled the bad guys as we monitored the steady demise of the Bay. We know how terrible things are. We know where the problems originate. We know who the perpetrators are. We even know how much it will cost to control pollution and bring back the days of clean water. So why do things just keep getting worse?

Because, as with so many other important issues of the day, there’s a disconnect between what we want and what we do. We all want a clean Chesapeake Bay. But we also want to live a lifestyle that’s likely at odds with that desire. The problem isn’t as complicated as say those who earn their livelihoods at the Bay’s expense. We are dumping too many chemicals into the water. If we don’t stop, the Bay will die. It really is that simple.

On to Another Treaty

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation lawsuit is symbolic of the times. We keep hearing about change, hope and new directions. But when executive director Will Baker announced the lawsuit, he surrounded himself with the environmental old guard. There was former State Sen. Bernie Fowler, former Gov. Harry Hughes and King of the Watermen Larry Simns. These guys have been banging their heads against this problem for over a quarter-century. Just listening to them ramble on, with the Bay framed behind them like an illusion, I, too, felt old and tired.

They all said the right things, about how the Bay is dying and how it’s a national disgrace.

Will Baker seemed almost sad when he said, “We are taking this extreme step because not once, not twice, but three times, the EPA has signed agreements to reduce pollution in the Bay … and they are discussing moving the latest deadline back another 12 years.”

Will this lawsuit deliver us into the Promised Land? Will it move the federal government to finally enforce the Clean Water Act — yet another Indian Treaty?

The folks in the Chesapeake Bay Program Office must feel like they are getting Maytagged. Their Washington handlers have been trying to gut the Clean Water Act since they came through the door in 2000. Lip-service stall ball has been federal public policy since the Bush administration initiated this regulatory free-for-all. Folks in the Annapolis Bay Program Office have been left to talk turkey with the hostile natives.

Jeff Lape, EPA’s latest commander of Fort Defiance, responded to the lawsuit by saying, “I think it is fair to say that we all share the Foundation’s frustration about the pace of Bay restoration that the Bay remains degraded.”

It’s hard to argue with any of this. We all agree that something must be done.

But what will that be?

If I were to provide a list, starting with no more building near the Bay, I doubt that many would think it was fair. I mean, there are wrongs, sure. But then there are property rights to consider, too, right?

I applaud the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for finally playing hardball. It’s long overdue.

But it will take years for this case to work its way through the courts. And in the end, everyone will just sign another treaty …

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.