After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

War on Rural Maryland?

Over the past year or so the phrase “war on rural Maryland” has appeared with increasing frequency in articles relating to environmental issues in the Chesapeake watershed. At first, it seemed like the work of lobbyists for developers opposed to smart growth restrictions on the destruction of forests and farmland for suburban sprawl. Then it was taken up by the public relations machine of poultry factories defending against charges of damaging Eastern Shore rivers with chicken manure. Now there is evidence that the war on rural Maryland is, at least in part, an element of a deceptive marketing campaign by an avaricious law firm.

On September 20, 2012, an attorney with the firm wrote to the Kent County Commissioners seeking engagement of the firm to represent the county in a “multi-pronged strategy to address the shortcomings of the various mandates and programs billed as Bay restoration actions…” One prong is possible litigation against the Environmental Protection Agency to invalidate parts of the bay wide “pollution diet”, or TMDL, that result in the requirement that counties take measures to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.

It has been reported that the law firm has made similar solicitations to other Maryland counties and has quoted a fee of $30,000 per county.

The solicitation asserts that counties should be relieved of their pollution reduction obligations under the TMDL because pollution spilling over the Conowingo dam on the Susquehanna River “significantly eclipses [nutrient and sediment pollution] from all Maryland sources.”  The firm relies on a federal report issued in August that shows that pollution passing over the dam is somewhat greater than that predicted and incorporated in the pollution models that support the TMDL process, particularly following major storms. The firm’s assertion that pollution from the dam eclipses all Maryland sources is so at odds with the conclusions of the report that it is either intentionally or recklessly misleading. The author of the report has repudiated the law firm’s misuse of the report.

Moreover, the law firm’s suggestion that the TMDL obligations of counties to reduce pollution should be voided because there are other, larger polluters is ridiculous. It is like telling the judge that your speeding ticket should be torn up because other speeders were going faster than you.

The costs of reversing the degradation of our rivers, streams and the bay are significant and will require sacrifices from all counties, urban and rural. We need to work together to find more cost-effective ways to reduce pollution, including pollution from the Conowingo dam. Driving a wedge between urban and rural counties by promoting a culture of victimhood will hurt that effort.

The citizens and voters of the rural counties will decide for themselves whether they want to buy into the war on rural Maryland. My reaction to the law firm’s letter would not be to pick up my gun but to hold onto my wallet.

You can read the law firm’s solicitation and the federal report at these links: Funk & Bolton letter; and http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5185/pdf/sir2012-5185-508.pdf.

 

Bob Gallagher

Shady Side, MD

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