By Abby Rogers

In a new report, the Federation for American Immigration Reform is blaming the overpopulation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and the resulting environmental destruction, on the influx of immigrants coming into the area.

The twin spans over the Chesapeake Bay.

The group’s media director Ira Mehlman said there are obviously other factors, but “immigration is the single largest factor of population growth in the United States. It has to be looked at as a factor” of environmental problems in the area.

The group, which began in 1979, is dedicated to preventing population growth through mass immigration. In a report it released last month, the group, citing U.S. Census data, claimed that between 2000 and 2009 immigration was directly responsible for 40 percent of the population growth in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. When you take into account the number of children born to immigrants in the United States, immigration is responsible for 66 percent of total population growth in the area for the same time period.

The group claims that the U.S.’ immigration policies, and the overpopulation that occurs as a result, are leading to the destruction of the bay.

“Immigration does not occur in a vacuum,” Mehlman said, adding that for the past 10 or 15 years environmental groups have avoided dealing with the question of immigration in relation to the environment but now is the time to do so.

Bay advocates dubious

But bay advocates scoffed at the notion that growth and immigration are to blame for the area’s environmental problems.

“We don’t know of any science that points to any demographic group as the main culprit,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman Tom Zolper said, adding that he hasn’t heard of the science that blames immigrants for the destruction of the bay.

“We don’t know how they reached that conclusion,” he said.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the bay. The bay area is the most studied ecological system in the last 30 to 40 years and scientists have come to the conclusion that agriculture is the biggest cause of pollution in the bay watershed. The foundation views pollution and agriculture, including Maryland chickens and Pennsylvania pigs as the leading causes behind the bay’s destruction.

According to its website, excess nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are the leading destroyers of the bay. About 40 percent of the nitrogen pollution in the area is due to agriculture, according to Zolper. Sewage treatment plants and runoff from suburban and urban areas also contribute to polluting the bay, according to the foundation’s website. Eighty percent of nitrogen and 66% of phosphorus loads to the Anacostia River come from stormwater runoff, according to the foundation’s 2010 State of the Bay report.

Growth part of problem

Former Baltimore Sun environmental columnist Tom Horton — a longtime advocate for the bay — is not involved in the immigration reform organization and hasn’t read the whole study. But he said he was happy to see the immigration reform group’s report.

“I think people really need to look at this issue and right now they’re not. To say that growth is not a huge part of the bay’s problem is just false,” Horton, who has written several books about the bay, said.

Horton said growth in general is a problem for the bay, and while immigrants are currently the main cause, growth is a problem regardless of who is causing it.

“It’s not that immigration per se is inherently polluting or that immigrants are polluting,” he said. “The sewage treatment plant doesn’t know black from white.”

This growth, coupled with with farm pollution, is destroying the bay.

“They are both such big parts of the bay’s health that without working as hard on both, we’re never going to save the bay,” Horton said.

The immigration reform group’s proposal for fixing the bay focuses on population control.

“We have advocated reducing overall levels of immigration consistent with the objective of trying to reach some population stability in the United States,” Mehlman said. “Obviously Maryland cannot regulate immigration the way the federal government can.”

The bay foundation is focusing on implementing the pollution diet mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. This diet requires states and local jurisdictions, in the bay watershed to decrease bay pollution from all sources. That includes sewage treatment plants, parking lots and lawns, according to its 2010 State of the Bay Report.

The foundation is also advocating building housing near existing infrastructure to avoid infringing on unused land and wildlife and using public transportation or bicycles. This is the goal of Maryland’s Smart Growth strategy.

To fix the problems in the bay, Horton suggests everyone keep working on “all those good things the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is working on,” including driving cars that don’t cause as much pollution. He also advocated starting a serious conversation about whether endless growth is beneficial.

“Growth is good up to a point,” he said. “It’s just not good forever.”