As the old saying goes, when the General Assembly is in session, nobody's life or property is safe. But this year's Legislature left town with a pair of solid environmental achievements that could improve life in the Chesapeake Bay and protect property around it.
An agreement championed by Gov. Parris Glendening to crack down on fertilizers and chicken wastes puts Maryland in the forefront nationally of efforts to curb destructive nutrient pollution. If scientists are correct in predicting the return this season of Pfiesteria, then General Assembly members can take pride during their re-election campaigns for taking aim at a vexing problem.
We would have liked to have seen the bill's effective date 1998 or 1999 rather than 2001. We would have preferred, too, seeing the General Assembly take a more aggressive attitude toward the chicken processors, a hugely profitable industry that now exports about one in five birds. The burden must not fall on farmers alone.
Next, Maryland ought to burnish its image as a trailblazer by becoming more aggressive in finding non-government solutions. For instance, we learned on a recent trip to Europe about a project in the British city of Northampton that turns 120,000 tons of chicken manure into 75 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year. In this era of utility deregulation (the General Assembly punted rather than taking the lead here by the way), why not meld two issues in a way that benefits everybody?
The General Assembly succeeded with a second piece of legislation that protects sensitive grass beds in the Chesapeake from dredging by clammers. This initiative hasn't received as much attention, but it is vital if the recovery of submerged aquatic vegetation is to proceed.
We see the effects where we live (along Herring Bay) when the hydraulic dredge chops and slashes on shallow bottoms to expose clams that may be burrowed a foot or more. We've seen it from the air, when the clammers leave behind muddy trails that look like the aftermath of mudslides. The dredges uproot grasses and bury grasses, setting in motion an underwater house of cards that, falling, damages oysters, crabs and fish.
Virginia is kicked around for its environmental backwardness, but this year the Virginia Marine Resources Commission imposed a one-year ban on dredging in the lush sea grasses of Chincoteague Bay.
We'll be watching to see whether the Maryland Department of Natural Resources aggressively enforces its new law.
Baysiders might have wanted more in the quest to solve problems that
damage the environment and the economy of the Chesapeake Bay. What we got
from the 1998 General Assembly was a good start and a tad more.
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VolumeVI Number 15
April 16-22, 1998
New Bay Times
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