(Posted by Fred Tutman.)
On May 19, 2011, the 18 Waterkeepers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and other Maryland-based Waterkeepers, staged an historic event in Annapolis at the City Dock. Firing up their patrol boats, the Riverkeepers (and one Coastkeeper), and a crowd of supporters motored into Annapolis in a Flotilla of Boats in order to make a point. On the day the Governor was signing (or vetoing) new legislation in the Maryland statehouse, this group of water advocates wanted to make sure that both the public and the legislature understood that time is running out to save our waterways and that it will take deeds–not just promise–in order to bring about necessary change. (“Riverkeepers decry ‘incremental solutions,’” Hometown Annapolis, May 23, 2011.)
The 2011 Maryland General Assembly session, recently concluded, had so much potential and so much promise to alleviate the many problems facing the environment and our declining waterways. And yet, instead of courageous and zealous action on the part of the legislature to champion the environment, we repeatedly heard and saw fear, paralysis and procrastination. Specifically, fear about the economy and jobs, in spite of the steady decline of the biggest economic assets one could ever have—clean water, air and land.
It is shocking that one could separate the need for a clean planet from the comparable need for a healthy economy. They are plainly one and the same. Both our environment and our economy are plagued by Bay dead zones, health hazards from toxics, an alarming decline in fisheries, lost habitat, shrinking open space, and dirty water runoff that promises a dark and bleak future unless we take action NOW to turn things around. The Waterkeepers Chesapeake who serve as the eyes, ears and voices of our waterways took the opportunity to express our anger, our disappointment and our demands for real outcomes and strong leadership on the environment from the politicians we elected and entrusted with these vital issues. Public service is a noble pursuit, deserving of our respect and support, but one must produce the results needed to carry the day and bring about change in order to remain in public office. One cannot expect to remain in office by failing to deliver on the core duties and obligations owed the public.
As for the Flotilla, I was enormously proud at the show of solidarity; the colorful spectacle of a citizen’s armada of boats expertly handled under storm clouds overhead, piloted by advocates who have made tremendous sacrifices to stand up for our water. Waterkeepers serve as the eyes, ears and voices of our watersheds and our message was that the Legislature has an obligation to advance solutions that are proportional to the daunting problems facing the environment. Not incremental, tepid or symbolic gestures, but giant strides toward goals that will solve problems that have been known all too well for decades. If my house was on fire and you brought a water pistol in order to help, I would not give you accolades for doing a good job. We are facing serious environmental problems statewide and what got passed this last time round, barely warrants a press release and does not represent serious progress or even good faith.
Consider the Waterkeeper press conference a legislative report card in an off-election year! Had this been an election year, I assure you the environmental vote would have brought the winds of change to Annapolis like a hurricane.
Undeniably, the citizens of Maryland did not elect politicians to represent us because we wanted to defer problems to future voters or to future legislatures. It is not a stretch to consider that many of us actually want genuine progress towards goals that have been in front of us for decades. Swimmable, fishable waters, clean air, protected land. We want these things not as a favor, or as alms—but because we are entitled and because it is the right thing to do.
In the end, the Waterkeepers and their boosters do not really care if you have a good legislative environmental score card from some group or other (the usual excuse I hear from politicians who want to authenticate their “green” credentials in the face of low performance). It doesn’t even matter if you have great intentions for the environment. Instead, it matters only that you can deliver the goods. As advocates, as voters and as citizens we stood united at the City Dock to make it clear that we insist on deeds, not unfulfilled promises. We demand solutions, not regrets. One earns the role of leadership in Annapolis or anywhere else, by walking the walk, not by just talking the talk. It is not about being a friendly face for the environment, it is truly about passing tough laws (and of course enforcing them). Guess what? The environmental problems won’t go away once the gavel of sine die has resonated, they linger on, causing real suffering, and genuine economic and social problems until the day something is actually done.
So, this is not a time to celebrate the successful end of a legislative session, but instead to start the process of making amends for the missed opportunities, for egregious failures and for deferring tough problems to yet another day. This last session was on credit. In the next one, we expect results.