After 25 years of watered-down policies, proposed law would hold states accountable for polluting the Bay
Rosanne Skirble (11/30/09)
On a warm evening in August, St. Philips Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland, opened its doors to a crowd of angry citizens. They were there to talk about the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Community activist Vernice Miller-Travis raises concerns over development issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed at a crowded town hall meeting in Annapolis, Maryland
Among them was Vernice Miller-Travis, an official with the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, who was frustrated by local zoning decisions that promote development. "We are not all on the same page, we are not about to get on the same page until we grapple with issue," she says.
Miller-Travis directs her remarks to Chuck Fox, a senior Environmental Protection Agency advisor, who says getting everyone with a stake in the Bay's future to agree may require tougher regulations. "Only 40 percent of all sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay are actually regulated by the federal or state government. I don't think we get to a clean Bay if that number stays at only 40 percent," Fox says.
Outside his office in Annapolis, Environmental Protection Agency official Chuck Fox accepts 19,000 postcard petitions from citizens who call for stronger federal action in Bay restoration
A few weeks later, outside the Chesapeake Bay Program
In his book Fight for the Bay, U.S. Naval Academy political scientist Howard Ernst says failed policies, "have allowed pollution to go on unabated in a way that the Bay can't handle. Whether it's agriculture, whether it's steel mills, whether it's air pollution, if you leave these industries to themselves, [it is in their own] economic best interests to dispose of their waste in public spaces like the Bay."
In Fight for the Bay U.S. Naval Academy political scientist Howard Ernst argues that an environmental awakening is needed to save the Chesapeake Bay
Ernst argues those policies stem from two conflicted environmental camps that split loyalties among Chesapeake activists. On one side, are the so-called 'dark greens,' those who see environmental protection as a basic human right. "That you have a right to clean air, clean water and vibrant natural resources in your public spaces, and people that violate that right have to be stopped. You pass a law, you enforce it, and you make the polluters pay for cleaning up their mess," Ernst explains.
Ernst contends that Bay restoration has largely been a 'light green' effort with what he calls "watered down, feel-good policies that slow the decline of the Bay, but never seem capable of actually reversing the downward trend." And now after 25 years, he says, "we can say with a fair degree of certainty that asking nicely and showing science is not enough to change people's behavior."
Howard Ernst is guardedly optimistic that with a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic majority in Congress and with governors supporting Bay restoration, that Bay politics of the last 25 years can be reversed
Ernst says restoration requires laws, regulations and enforcement policies, a renewed 'dark green' approach. Lisa P. Jackson, administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says the presidential executive order to restore the Bay issued in May could be a game changer. A response to the executive order released in September would hold states accountable for the pollution they create.
Jackson says EPA could withhold federal funding or stop permits on new projects should states fail to meet pollution reduction targets. "I believe [in] what the President wanted when he issued the executive order. He called for bold, dramatic action. If we respond with anything less than I think that skepticism is warranted," she says.