Assault on the bay

December 19, 1991

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.

While it is clear that Maryland alone cannot solve the problem, this state must be in the forefront. To that end, Sen. John Pica is introducing a proposal in the 1992 General Assembly that would cut vehicle emissions -- not only as a means to fight the bay's deterioration but, more important, as a message to Maryland's regional partners that we are serious about maintaining the integrity of the Chesapeake.

A clear legislative consensus, along with the continued pressure of public opinion on the state and federal levels, holds the best hope for the restoration of this marvelous natural resource.

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