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O'Malley has failed to protect the Chesapeake Bay [Letter]

12:00 PM EDT, March 12, 2014

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In his recent State of the State Address, Gov. Martin O'Malley touted his accomplishments in Chesapeake Bay restoration. On closer examination, the record reveals that his claims were misstatements, at best. The truth is that Maryland's portion of the bay remains severely degraded. Oyster, shad and soft clam fisheries have collapsed, bay grasses declined in 2012 to the lowest levels since 1986, and dead zones proliferate. Did the governor intentionally ignore the increasing reports of people with serious flesh-eating skin infections threatening their limbs and lives because they swam or fished in Maryland's waters? Or was it just an oversight on his part? Either way, his assertions draw into serious question his competence, his bona fides, or both.

The Sun has run recent articles on the failure of the O'Malley administration to address properly the bay's most significant problems — stormwater runoff and agricultural pollution ("Bay advocates say state lax in monitoring county stormwater controls, Jan. 3). This failure to implement and enforce current laws sets a poor example for states looking to Maryland for leadership in fostering a true commitment to restoring the Chesapeake.

Examples of the present administration's shortcomings abound. On polluted storm water, The Sun documents the abject failure of the Department of Environment to review local governments' enforcement of existing stormwater laws for new development which "could lead to lax enforcement on the local level — and put efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay at risk." An MDE official blames this on his agency's inadequate resources.

But law professor Rena Steinzor notes in a Sun commentary that when faced with its legal obligation to collect $400,000 in mandated fees from major manure polluters in 2013 to help enforce key environmental laws, MDE looked the other way and failed to collect these fees. The fees were required for Clean Water Act permits, giving 540 "concentrated animal feeding operations" (CAFOs) — industrial-style chicken farms mostly — a free ride even though they produce around 650 million pounds of manure, a major source of pollution for the Chesapeake Bay.

Making matters far worse, as The Sun reported, "More than four years after Maryland first moved to regulate its largest poultry and livestock farms, nearly 30 percent, or 169 operations, still do not have required state permits mandating measures to control polluted runoff from their chicken houses or feedlots." This means these huge sources of bay pollutants are in violation of the law and nothing is being done about it. The MDE once again blames the lack of sufficient personnel to comply with the law even though they deliberately failed to collect $400,000 in mandated fees in 2013.

Despite these blatant failures to act on the part of his administration, the governor had the gall to state the following in the address: "[We] are the leading state of our bay watershed in cleaning up the Chesapeake — consistently meeting our two-year milestones, allowing less nitrogen and phosphorous to pollute our bay than seven years ago."

Professor Steinzor concluded her commentary with the following provocative question and observation: "Businesses pay permitting fees all the time. Why is the state giving chicken producers a free ride? I can't think of any good reason." Some think they know of one: the governor's pandering to special interests — principally Big Ag — to help his run for president. Personally, I don't share that view; Martin O'Malley is not presidential timber. His abysmal record on the environment clearly demonstrates that he should not have been entrusted with the national treasure of the Chesapeake in any capacity. Much greater responsibilities await the next Chief Executive. Maybe Mr. O'Malley should just return to life with the "b'hoys and muldoons" and write his memoirs.

Robert Lyon, Annapolis

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