Politics and the Bay Cleanup

May 07, 1994

For anyone who cares about Chesapeake Bay there's a

warning in the Environmental Protection Agency's threat to cut off cleanup funds for Virginia. Once again we are reminded how many jurisdictions control the water that flows down the bay. If one fails to meet its responsibility, the whole watershed suffers. There is also the reminder that political commitments need to be renewed with each change of local administration.

While none of the four jurisdictions in the bay's watershed -- Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia -- managed to meet a deadline for plans to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into its waters from their tributaries, Virginia has done virtually nothing for two years.

In part Virginia's failure can be traced to a change in administration. Gov. George Allen has been in office three months. That provides a partial explanation for the lack of progress but not a two-year failure to push ahead on a cleanup. For that reason, the EPA is threatening to withhold $1.2 million in federal cleanup aid.

Governor Allen is a conservative Republican who displays little enthusiasm for government regulations. He would rather dismantle restrictions on business and farm activities than abet them. This does not necessarily mean ignoring the need to clean up the bay -- that's a high priority for a lot of conservatives. But environmental concerns did not figure in Mr. Allen's campaign and do not seem to weigh heavily in his program now.

A comment by Mr. Allen after his election should be noted with interest by Marylanders who are embarking on an election season. "Concern for the environment," Mr. Allen said, "should not come at the expense of people, their property and jobs." That's not far off some comments this week by three Republican candidates for governor of Maryland and, in less specific terms, by three less-well-known Democratic candidates. Environmental controls have become too tough on businessmen and farmers in one way or another, they said.

As the gubernatorial campaign unfolds here, Maryland voters have a right to expect much more explicit statements of environmental policies from gubernatorial candidates. Restoring the bay to at least a semblance of its past glory is not an ideological issue and should not be a partisan one. The Chesapeake Bay is an asset of unmatched importance to Maryland, contributing immeasurably to the quality of life here and tens of millions of dollars to the state's economy. There is room for disagreement about particular measures, but none for a governor who fails to fight to clean up the bay.

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