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CEPA Review

FIGHT FOR THE BAY by Howard Ernst
Review by Bob Gallagher

Howard Ernst’s Chesapeake Bay Blues (2003) was one of the decisive influences that caused me to found West/Rhode Riverkeeper. Chesapeake Bay Blues first articulated for a large audience the now familiar propositions that: we know what the problems are; we know what the solutions are; and we lack the political will to implement the solutions. Its publication challenged the Bay restoration establishment by asserting that its institutions had failed in their mission because they had failed to engage in the kind of aggressive advocacy that would make a difference, such as lobbying, participating in the electoral process and suing polluters and do-nothing public officials when appropriate.

Ernst is a professor of political science at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Professor Ernst’s recently published Fight for the Bay, Why a Dark Green Awakening is Needed to Save the Chesapeake Bay, is, in a sense, a sequel. Ernst Ernst makes a detailed case that the “Light Green” environmental movement that focuses mainly on restoration work and “feel-good” projects, but shies away from confrontation, has resulted in a political “dead zone” in which politicians talk about saving the Bay but take little effective action. He argues that building a “Dark Green” movement that aggressively and uncompromisingly insists on stopping pollution is essential if we are to save the Bay.

Light Greens have accepted the proposition, promoted by polluters and complicit government officials (whom, together, he calls the Cornucopians), that limits on pollution must be voluntary and negotiated between the government, polluters and other “stake-holder” groups. Dark Greens, on the other hand, insist that citizens have a right to effective enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the protection of the public health that can’t be negotiated away.

Fight for the Bay continues the criticism of the Bay restoration establishment. It is particularly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, citing it as a principal proponent of the Light Green,negotiate-with-polluters approach. Readers may remember that, not long ago, former Bay Program officials acknowledged that the Bay Program exaggerated reports of the success of their Bay clean-up efforts in order to secure funding of the Program.

The dead-zone thesis takes up the first third of the book. The second third is a discussion of how the mainstream media has failed to bring sufficient public attention to Bay issues in general and the political dead zone in particular. The last third is a series of war stories written by Dark Greens including local favorites Anne Pearson, Gerald Winegrad, Mike Shay and Bernie Fowler. 

Some may say that Fight for the Bay is largely inside baseball for Bay activists. I hope that it will have a wider audience. It is short, easy to follow and timely. If it gets that wider audience, it may result, as I suspect Ernst intended, in a dose of chlorophyll for our light green colleagues. W/RR will send a free copy of the book to the first 20 members who respond to our Annual Appeal with a contribution of $100 or more.