ANNAPOLIS – A majority of people responding to a new Chesapeake Bay Foundation survey believes it is more important to strictly enforce current environmental laws than it is to pass stronger, new legislation.
The random telephone survey of 500 citizens indicated there is a high concern about toxic pollution in the bay, giving the foundation a strong environmental message to send to state governments, its officials said.
Louise Hayman, a foundation spokeswoman, said the survey data and further findings would be sent to the governors of watershed states such as Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, in hopes they will act to better protect the bay.
“We’re really focusing on the state governments,” Hayman said. But “we will also be encouraging industry to voluntarily reduce their amount of toxics that they use.”
Of people surveyed in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, 59 percent preferred strict enforcement of current laws to new efforts.
And 53 percent of respondents said they are much more likely to vote for a candidate for public office who has taken a stand to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution.
The survey was conducted between Oct. 9 and 13 by TBC Research, and had a margin of error varying between 2.7 to 4.5 percent, depending upon the question asked.
Responses suggest the public thinks the Environmental Protection Agency is best charged with protecting the bay.
When asked to choose from a list the one or two groups they would trust to “make the right decisions about protecting the bay,” 39 percent went with the EPA. Only 6 percent chose the federal government. (The EPA is a branch of the federal government.)
Twenty-percent chose state government, while 33 percent chose environmental and conservation groups.
Sixty percent of respondents — and 67 percent of Marylanders surveyed — said it was “extremely important” to them to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals in the bay.
“We are hoping to spotlight the need for action on toxic pollution,” Hayman said.
Only 3 percent thought the bay was “very healthy” in terms of the plants and animals that live there. A plurality, 40 percent, thought the bay was “somewhat unhealthy,” while 17 percent thought it was “very unhealthy.”
A similar survey of 2,000 people in the same areas, conducted by the EPA in late 1993, suggested citizens were a lot less informed about just what is causing the pollution in the bay.
Thirty-two percent of respondents to that survey named industry as the most serious cause of pollution. Only 8 percent named farming.
Actually, nutrients from agricultural and other runoff are the number one cause of pollution in the bay, said Peter Marx, director of communications for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program.
While the foundation’s survey also found that industry discharge was thought to be the greatest contributor, Marx said he was amazed how educated people had become about other causes of pollution.
In the new survey, 47 percent of respondents said they believed agriculture contributed a “great deal” to bay pollution.
The nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus which are harmful to the bay, mainly come from agricultural runoff.
“I was heartened to see that there is such an increased awareness of people about other pollutants in the bay,” Marx said.
Glen Besa, who chairs the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter found the survey consistent with other surveys.
“If anything it indicates that people have a strong identification with the bay and want the government to do everything possible to protect it,” he said. “People support environmental programs.” -30-