ANNAPOLIS – The Bush administration has weakened restrictions on raw sewage, agricultural waste and wetlands protection, contributing to an unprecedented “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay, the Sierra Club said in a report released Thursday in Baltimore.
Dubbed “No Day at the Beach: How the Bush Administration is Eroding Coastal Protection,” the report named the bay, Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico as nutrient-afflicted waters and pinpointed how the Bush administration has threatened America’s entire coast.
“The concern here is there are a number of factors affecting the bay’s health,” said Glen Besa, director for the Appalachian region of the Sierra Club. Nutrient pollutants have spurred oxygen-consuming algae blooms in those waters that threaten fish and shellfish populations. Last year, the bay’s dead zone was a 150-mile, oxygen-deprived swath stretching from Baltimore to Hampton Roads.
Representatives of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency could not be reached for comment Thursday.
State policies cannot solve the whole problem, Besa said. Maryland’s “flush tax,” which will tax homeowners $30 per year to help fund sewage treatment plant upgrades, will fail to protect a bay threatened by federal policies, he said.
“The Bush administration … has a record of unprecedented rollbacks,” said Besa, who explained that if the federal government fails to regulate other bay states such as Virginia, massive pollution still threatens the bay. “This is one of the problems with federal versus state action.”
The report described how the Bush administration blocked a January 2001 EPA regulation that would fix outdated sewer systems.
Chris Carney, conservation organizer for the club’s Appalachian region, named global warming, given special attention in the report, as an additional threat to the Chesapeake Bay.
Besa said the water at the mouth of the bay in Virginia Beach is rising more than an inch per decade.
“The Sierra Club feels the Bush administration is kind of turning a blind eye to sound science showing global warming is a real problem,” said Carney, adding that this crisis also contributes to the frequency of severe weather.
Marylanders’ willingness to support the flush tax, said Besa, proves their willingness to protect the bay. He criticized the Bush administration for allowing the Superfund program, which taxed chemical plants to fund waste clean-up, to expire. The notion of “polluter pays,” he said, is supported by Maryland – “Corporations should be expected to clean up their mess.”
The bulk of the study lamented mercury contamination, oil and gas development, and the destruction of coastal land, in addition to sewage discharges. Proposed solutions included enhanced clean air and water laws, increased funding for water quality infrastructure, use of renewable energy sources and wetlands restoration. – 30 – CNS-9-2-04