License for the Bay


Those Chesapeake Bay license tags have proved surprisingly popular, which is especially good news for those who care about the health of this fragile and endangered estuary.

Only six months after they were issued, the commemorative license plates have generated $1.75 million for the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund. Add this to the more than $1 million earned from the state's "chickadee check-off" on the Maryland income tax form to help the bay, and it is clear more and more citizens are now willing to put their own money into a Chesapeake cleanup.

The bay trust fund funnels money to community-based environmental groups that run volunteer bay clean-up and tree-planting programs. The increased donations generated by the special license tags enabled the trust to allocate $571,000 to 130 groups this year as opposed to $265,000 to 60 groups last year.

Initially, the General Assembly resisted efforts to issue an "environmental" license plate. Lawmakers reluctantly changed their tune, though, as concern over the plight of the Chesapeake mounted among constituents. Now the Motor Vehicle Administration is taking in an average of $5,000 to $7,000 per week selling these license plates -- all this, only six months after they were first issued.

The commemorative license tag, which displays a great blue heron among marsh grass, costs an extra $20 but is far more attractive than the state's regular black and white plate. Demand for the special tags show no sign of ebbing, either.

Meanwhile, the trust fund has a welcome problem: it received and reviewed more grant applications at its last meeting than it had in its entire three years of operation. Marylanders are sending a strong environmental message to Annapolis. Is anyone in the legislature listening?

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