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.

It’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up

(Posted by Chris Trumbauer Anne Arundel County Councilman

(This is fifth in an ongoing series of posts on What’s It Going to Take?: A look at how the environmental community can regain the initiative and build the political will necessary to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.)
Whats It Going to Take?

If your family is like mine, the struggling economy is making every household economical decision a critical one. I cringed when I got my latest fuel oil bill and turned the thermostat down a couple of degrees to try and lessen the pain of the next bill. My wife and I both own fuel-efficient cars, but we still restrict driving as much as possible to delay filling up our tank as long as we can. Like many families, we are putting off important purchases, hoping to get a little more time out of a pair of shoes or a winter coat.

None of this, however, dampens my strong desire for clean water and healthy air. Pollution is pollution whether it contaminates our environment in a recession, or in an economic boom. My lungs don’t care what the return on my 401k is, and my kids don’t think about what the price of gasoline is before they jump into the Chesapeake Bay. Why are we all suddenly on the defensive in our fight for our environment? From the federal battles over the EPA to land-use decisions on the local level, we are seeing our environmental protections threatened, when they should be strengthened. Government’s overarching goal is to protect its people, and that includes protecting them from the threat of pollution.

Right now, far too often, the economy is being used as an excuse not to meet our obligations to provide the basic security of fishable, swimable waterways. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Clean Water Act. Now is not the time for us to walk away from our commitment to clean water – it’s time to double down. The health of the Chesapeake Bay and our local waterways is intertwined with a healthy economy. So is the quality of life of our communities. Investing in cleaning up our environment will create jobs, not kill them, as some would have you believe. For too long, we have been fed this false choice of jobs versus the environment. Enough is enough.

Think back to the last election cycle and all the robocalls and political mailers you received. Do you remember any candidates who claimed they did not support cleaning up our environment? Probably not. Now that those candidates (including me) are in office, think about whether their actions match their stated commitment to our waterways and our environment. Broad, non-specific support for “the Bay” does not always translate to having the political will to achieve policy.

In Anne Arundel County, I sponsored a bipartisan bill to establish dedicated funding for in-the-ground restoration projects to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff. At the public hearing, nearly 30 people offered compelling testimony in favor of the bill, including community leaders, health officials, boaters, and grassroots advocates. Only a handful of people testified in opposition. Despite the broad show of support, and general acknowledgment of the problem, the measure was withdrawn because there were not enough votes for passage. A case study in the lack of political will to clean up our waterways.

What will it take to turn the corner on restoring the environmental (and economical) treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay?

  • Realistic expectations. We cannot “wish” the Bay better with positive thoughts and feel-good measures alone. Serious problems require serious solutions and those solutions can and will cost money. We need to consider the long-term impacts of an impaired Bay when we consider the current investments needed to secure our fisheries, recreational activities, maritime industry, and other benefits of a restored Bay. What will it cost us if we fail to act?
  • Willingness to try new things. While acknowledging the progress we have made, we must also realize it has not been enough. The tactics of voluntary measures and loose enforcement of environmental laws is not working. Regulation of pollution and strong management actions have successfully restored other waterways and they can work on the Bay, too.
  • A renewed sense of accountability. We cannot keep failing to meet deadlines and goals with no consequence. If we are asking our citizens to change their behavior or share in the responsibility to clean up our waterways, our leaders need to hold up their end of the bargain by making sure the right policies are in place to reduce pollution enough to make a difference.

We are making real progress in the fight to clean up our waterways. A recent report found that we were about halfway to our Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort goals. That progress represents an investment of decades of work and millions of dollars. The progress has been slow but we’ve come too far to give up now and jeopardize all the work that we have done up to now.

It’s time to put up or shut up. This is our opportunity to finish the job, not come up with more excuses. We absolutely must focus and control growth, regulate and reduce pollution from all sources, and change our behavior. None of these things are simple, and some are expensive, but they are all necessary if we want our future to include a restored Chesapeake Bay and a healthy local economy.

5 Responses to It’s Time to Put Up or Shut Up

  1. The economy is not being used as an excuse, there are simply people who are losing everything, homes, cars, etc. Families that cannot afford to replace a leaky roof or fix a broken car or feed their family three good meals. For these people, and many others, we cannot afford the bills that we have let alone another.

    Sure we are all for clean air and clean water, but sometimes those are very low on our priority list behind food and shelter.

    The number of people living in the Bay Watershed is surely taxing the health of the bay and has been for a long time. This water body with the largest land to water drainage area of any waterbody in the world is greatly affected by what we do on the land that drains to it.

    We must find economical ways to reduce N and P and let the free market decide how to remove the cheapest pollution that we can. That way, we all pay less and we get better results.

    We have spent billions on cleaning up the bay, imagine if that money had been spent on the cheapest N and P, how much progress would we have made to date?

    Everyone must do their fair share but the regulators and legislators must make sure that we get the biggest bang for our buck and do not throw away billions more on faulty or inefficient, prescriptive solutions.

  2. Stormwater utility legislation was pursued during the Owens’ administration, when the housing boom was occurring and the economy was great. It was introduced and again fell 1 vote short in 2007, before the housing bust. There will always be excuses for why the right thing can’t be done, and the Councilman’s point is, the time for excuses has passed.

    With regards to the economical ways to reduce N and P, two points: 1) Local governments, like Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County, and others, have spent years doing cost/benefit analyses to determine the most cost effective strategies for cleaning up local rivers. Their phase 2 watershed implementation plans (http://www.aacounty.org/DPW/Watershed/WIP%20Documents.cfm) are built on those analyses. 2) The free market has no incentive to innovate if there are not dollars available to pay for the fruits of that innovation or regulatory requirements in place that force it.

    We need a dedicate funding source for stormwater restoration in order to meet our clean water goals.

    • The regulatory requirements are there and the money is there, it is just being spent in a less effective way. If the private sector could compete for grant money to implement water quality projects and could win that money based on the efficiency of their project, you would have a line a mile long with innovative and effective ideas.

  3. I’m afraid to say that, even where regulatory requirement exist, no one is enforcing them, and the money is not there (because there are no consequences for non-compliance). A bill like Councilman Trumbauer’s though, would certainly create the revenue stream that could be used to incentivize private sector solutions to our water quality problems. I hope he brings it back soon.

  4. I’m afraid to say that, even where regulatory requirements exist, no one is enforcing them, and the money is not there (because there are no consequences for non-compliance). A bill like Councilman Trumbauer’s though, would certainly create the revenue stream that could be used to incentivize private sector solutions to our water quality problems. I hope he brings it back soon.