By Dan Menefee
Democrats in Annapolis Thursday railed against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for not doing enough to protect the Chesapeake Bay under the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Bay cleanup plan and under a new EPA administrator historically hostile to environmental regulations.
“The Bay can’t speak for itself obviously and needs a spokesperson,” said Senate President Mike Miller, leading a press conference of House and Senate Democratic leaders. “Obviously the person in the highest office in the state is not speaking out for the Chesapeake Bay, so we’re here to say this Bay is ours, it’s the largest estuary in the world…and we’re going to protect our Chesapeake Bay.”
(The world’s largest estuary, where fresh water combines with saltwater from the ocean, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, according to numerous sources. The Chesapeake is the largest in the U.S.)
Miller, whose home overlooks the bay at Chesapeake Beach, said progress has been made to bring back the canvasback duck and rockfish populations and establish oyster sanctuaries “and we’re not going to retreat,” Miller said.
Conspiracy of silence
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said the Hogan administration has been guilty of a “conspiracy of silence” since the federal budget came out last week with $73 million in proposed cuts to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program, which was enacted in 2010 to put the Bay on pollution diet to reduce nutrients flowing into it.
“The program, the resources and the oversight…have been cut and not a word from the second floor,” Pinsky said. “It is a conspiracy of silence and it is guilt of omission.”
“Without that program we are going to slide backwards, not only losing that $73 million but the oversight and push from the federal government. Without that we have a major problem,” Pinsky said.
Pinsky said Hogan’s support of a bill to weaken penalties on oyster poachers and the firing of scientists, had become an act of commission. He was referring to the recent firing of Brenda Davis, blue crab fisheries manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who spent 28 years at the agency.
She was supposedly fired for setting limits on the size of crabs that could be harvested after July 15 every year to 5 ¼ inches.
Lawsuit compelled enforcement
Maryland’s Bay cleanup plan was the result of a lawsuit by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a settlement agreement with the EPA, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to implement plans to reduce nutrient pollution, bringing the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.
Kim Coble, the foundation’s vice president for environmental protection and restoration, said the “bay is improving” because of a 35-year state and federal partnership that started with President Ronald Reagan.
“Our ‘State of the Bay’ report this year has the highest reporting level we’ve ever had,” Coble said. “We have improved water clarity and the [population] of oysters and crabs and underwater grasses are coming back. And all of this is at risk.”
The administration answered the Democratic leadership with a little sarcasm and it defended Hogan’s record on the Bay.
“With two weeks left in the session, we wish that the majority leadership would focus on doing their jobs here in Annapolis instead of focusing on Washington, D.C. partisan politics,” the statement said. “The governor has already made it clear that he will always fight for the Chesapeake Bay and that he opposes hypothetical cuts at the federal level.”
“Our administration will continue to support the Bay at record levels in the state budget, which has included over $3 billion for the Bay since taking office. We are happy to see that the presiding officers have seen the light on Bay restoration funding, given their support for the past administration raiding over $1 billion from restoration efforts.”
“President Miller and Speaker Busch promised that their entire focus this session would be on Washington politics; at least that’s one promise they’ve delivered on.”
Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican left in the Maryland congressional delegation, said last week: “The Chesapeake Bay is a treasure, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to working with the administration to prioritize programs within the Environmental Protection Agency that would preserve Bay cleanup efforts.”