By MORGAN GIBSON
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – Maryland’s “difficult” decisions to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay are beginning to pay off, the state’s congressional delegation was told Thursday, but there’s still a long way to go.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., led the Capitol Hill meeting between environmental experts and the delegation Thursday about the bay’s overall poor health and the federal and state efforts to restore America’s largest estuary.
“The bay is in trouble,” Cardin said. “We need to do everything we can to help the bay.”
First, Maryland’s politicians heard about the recently released Bay Barometer from Rich Batiuk, the associate director and senior scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which issued the report.
The barometer, released last week, concluded that the bay “remains in poor condition” and gave the bay’s overall health a grade of 45 percent.
“In other words, we’re not even half way there towards having a healthy Chesapeake Bay,” Batiuk said. Although there have been some improvements, “overall the bay’s health, its ecosystem, is still not in good shape.”
Batiuk mentioned the few improvements in the report, such as the second-highest level of much-needed underwater grasses since the 1970s. Batiuk explained to the politicians that grass growth is a key indicator of bay health.
Chuck Fox, the EPA’s senior adviser on the bay, explained the final federal strategy called for by President Obama’s Executive Order last year. The strategy will be released on May 12.
Fox said several key elements of that strategy include reducing water pollution in partnership with the watershed states, a new commitment for collaboration among the “federal family,” and new accountability for how the EPA conducts its activities and spend its money in the watershed.
The EPA is pledging to implement something called “Chesapeake stat,” which is modeled after Gov. Martin O’Malley’s “Bay Stat,” and will allow the agency to track its performance.
Fox also pointed out that Maryland’s congressional delegation has been extremely helpful in bay cleanup efforts.
“This is a remarkable delegation that works extremely well together for the people of the state and the quality of our environment,” Fox said.
Shari Wilson, secretary for Maryland Department of the Environment, updated the politicians on what Maryland is doing and how the state is making progress in bay efforts.
Wilson also mentioned “Bay Stat.” The department meets with the governor once a month and reports on the progress, or lack thereof, in bay restoration and cleanup.
One of the efforts the state is working toward is reducing nitrogen and phosphorus in the bay. Wilson said that the state is on a “pollution diet” and that the state is working toward complete accountability.
Wilson said that while the state has had to make difficult decisions, these are the ones that will bring results.
The congressmen, like Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, John Sarbanes, D-Towson, and Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, all expressed their concerns for the poor health of the bay and wanted to know different ways their districts and constituents could work toward solving the problems.
Sarbanes, for example, said that the work of individual citizens can have a huge impact on moving the bay along in cleanup efforts.
“I’m convinced that that’s how we’re going to tip things back in the right direction,” Sarbanes said. “The aggregate impact of millions of people who develop good habits and are doing their best within their own sphere of influence can impact the bay positively.”