Harford County Executive David R. Craig wants to roll back state environmental laws that protect the Chesapeake Bay. He says it's not clear in his mind that these laws have been effective.
The facts are indisputable: our efforts to decrease pollution to the Bay over the past several decades are working. And this work has brought economic as well as environmental benefits. Finishing the job of restoring the Bay will create more jobs, revive the seafood industry and stimulate tourism, recreation fishing and even real estate values.
The corollary also is true: rolling back laws and regulations that protect the Bay would be like inflicting a major wound to our businesses, our pocket books and our communities. The Chesapeake has been our economic as well as cultural bedrock for centuries.
The Chesapeake Bay is the most studied water body in the world. We have precise, reliable, scientific information about the estuary's condition over time. We have reduced the amount of harmful pollution to the Bay and the streams and rivers that feed it, achieving about 50 percent of what we need to reduce to allow the Bay to flourish, scientists say.
"We may be halfway home," said a recent article about Bay restoration progress in the Chesapeake Quarterly published by Maryland Sea Grant College.
Scientists tell us that as pollution is reduced the Bay will revive in an irregular pattern, showing signs of health but also of continued distress. And that's exactly what we're seeing out on the water.
In stretches of the Patapsco, Potomac, the Patuxent and other rivers and streams in Maryland, scientists have noted increased underwater grass, oxygen levels or other vital signs. But we're also seeing continued fish kills, dead zones and other signs of an ecosystem still dangerously out of balance.
The economic benefits of our environmental protection are just as real. Montgomery County is creating over 3,000 full-time private sector jobs as it upgrades its system of ponds, pipes and other structures that drain and treat polluted runoff. Prince George's County estimates it will create a similar number of jobs from the same work. Anne Arundel County will produce $220.2 million in economic benefits from the same type of work for every $100 million it invests, according to the University of Maryland. Counties such as Harford that invest less will undoubtedly see fewer benefits.
Those are facts. In contrast, the information Executive Craig presents to warrant a rollback in environmental protection is riddled with inaccuracies.
For instance, Craig misrepresents the 2012 state law that requires Baltimore City, Harford and those other counties that produce the most polluted runoff to collect a "stormwater utility fee" to fix that problem. Here are some of the real facts:
• Polluted runoff is a real problem in Harford County. About 27 percent of all nitrogen pollution in Harford streams and rivers comes from runoff from urban and suburban areas, according to the county's own Watershed Implementation Plan. That's significant. By comparison, farms produce about 35 percent. The regional plan to finish cleaning up the Bay calls for major reductions from both sectors.
• The Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League specifically requested that the law allow each locality to set its own fee amount and system for determining fees. That's why a business with the same "footprint" in one county might have to pay a different amount in another.
• This law isn't going to send Maryland businesses stampeding to West Virginia, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania because businesses increasingly will find the same regulations elsewhere. Like Maryland, other states in the Bay watershed are required to reduce polluted runoff. Eighteen local jurisdictions in Virginia, eight in West Virginia, at least two in Delaware (including the largest, Wilmington) and several in Pennsylvania already have stormwater fee systems in place.
• Maryland's local stormwater fees are in the middle of the nationwide range. Over 800 local governments across the country have started collecting such fees.
Let the record show our environmental and economic well-being are two sides of the same coin. As you treat or mistreat the Chesapeake, so you aid or degrade the state of Maryland.
Maryland Executive Director,
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