Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay has always been a challenge, because it pits the concrete rewards of profit and expediency against an environmental vision, whose impact lies in the future.
Given those restraints, Maryland has done reasonably well; reducing phosphates in waste water, for instance, and raising public awareness of the problem. But increasingly the marriage of federal laissez faire philosophy and the recession has eroded that civic commitment. A glaring example is the decision to let Texaco do exploratory drilling in Charles County, which environmentalists say threatens the integrity of the bay. But the Bush administration deserves dishonorable mention for its waffling on new regulations to open for development thousands of acres of wetlands around the bay, which now act as sponges for runoff and pollutants.
In addition, a new EPA study suggests that even the much-touted bay restoration agreement, signed four years ago by Maryland and its neighbors doesn't cover some key sources of pollution. Moreover, the study found, wide regional cooperation is vital as well. Rainfall from Delaware, New York and West Virginia, for example, none of which shares a border with the bay, still trickles into streams and rivers that flow into the bay. So, too, nitrogen from air pollution robs the water of oxygen and chokes off the lifeline for underwater grasses, oysters and fish.